Friday, February 10, 2012
Mrs. Stapleton died yesterday. At 97, it was not unexpected, but it breaks my heart no less.
I thought she had died in July 2010 when my Paralegal Studies graduation announcement was returned. I was destroyed and my heart hurts as badly now as it did then.
Last month, out of the blue, her daughter reached out to me to let me know my beloved teacher was still alive. She explained that the reason my card was returned was that Mrs. Stapleton had moved into an assisted living facility the year before. I rejoiced to hear she was still alive! I dashed off a joyful letter and took the opportunity to again express my love and appreciation for her.
This evening, her daughter sent me an email with the news that Mrs. Stapleton died yesterday quietly in her sleep after fighting a respiratory infection for a week. Jane’s husband is undergoing treatment for leukemia so the service will not occur for a few weeks. I cannot go, but I sent my love and prayers to Jane. I think they live in Texas and he will not be able to go with her to Albuquerque for her mother’s service. I wish I could be there to give her a hug and to make sure she does not feel this burden alone.
Mrs. Stapleton was my first grade teacher and the school librarian. She had been my older brother’s teacher the year before and I met her several times when she came to the house with his lunch box, art shirt or whatever else he’d forgotten.
When I came into her classroom, my life was changed permanently. My home life was terrible and Mrs. Stapleton made school my sanctuary. I could not go outside for PE with the other students, so I spent that time in the library with her. She taught me to love and care for books. She ignited my passion for learning, awakened the flame of intellectual curiosity that still burns today. Years later, I learned that she went to bat for me even then. Back then, first graders were given IQ tests that were primarily tests of manual dexterity and coordination, neither of which did I have. Mrs. Stapleton stood up to the principal, refusing to put those results in my permanent file. She did not want those scores to follow me, to label me, for the entirety of my scholastic career. What wisdom!
In second grade, I wrote a story and Mrs. Stapleton “published” it for me. She typed it on thick pages in big letters and used my own artwork to illustrate it. She bound it with a red velo-bind spiral (red was my favorite color). I wish I still had that treasure!
I attended Aztec Elementary into my sixth grade year. Mrs. Stapleton was always my go-to person for a hug, a chance to cry or to get another book or three. When I had to change schools, I was absolutely heartbroken and could not imagine school without her! I think it was about then that she gave me a trinket box from Mexico. Mother did not want me to keep it, but Mrs. Stapleton prevailed. I was amazed as I had never seen or heard Mother lose! I still have that box, albeit without a few of the decorative pieces of tile that adorned the exterior.
Two years later, my life was turned upside down. I was sent to live with my dad (whom I had never met) and, two weeks after that, my brother died saving another boy’s life. Dad sent me back to Albuquerque for boarding school. I thought I was being turned out of my “second” family, but it turned out to be the best thing for me, made all the better by the continuity that having Mrs. Stapleton in my life represented. She was the only person who knew me when I went by my stepfather’s name and continued to know me after I started going by my father’s last name. That reads as just a collection of words, but, given that this change occurred while I was 13, it represents a complete and profound bifurcation of my childhood.
Through the years, we exchanged letters. I sent my high school and college graduation announcements and there were always birthday and Christmas cards. Seeing her familiar name and address on the envelope was always an occasion for joy. I read my mail in a lowest-to-high-priority order, saving the best for last. Her mail was always last!
A lot of holes exist in my memories, chunks of time that I don’t remember, but memories of Mrs. Stapleton are vivid from me being small enough to fit under the chalk rail in first grade, finally being tall enough to sit in a first grade desk without a block under my feet when I was nine to a million more through the years. For three years after college, I lived in Albuquerque. We met at Furr’s Cafeteria more than once and spent more time talking than eating. Often that lunch out included my stepfather’s mother who had been a third grade teacher. They talked shop, which I thoroughly enjoyed!
The last time I saw Mrs. Stapleton, she was in the hospital and she had a therapist coaching her to breathe more deeply in order to inhale some kind of medicine from a large green hose. I don’t remember why she was there, but I do remember cheering her on! Mrs. Stapleton started laughing at my enthusiasm and passed her therapy. It was a precious moment! The thing was, she used to cheer me on. I wore a leg brace through some of my grade school years and, when she was on playground duty, she kept an eye on me. I felt braver; emboldened to try to run (I loved to run even though I could not do it well). I felt protected because she did not let the boys tease or bully me. She always encouraged me to do more, to try harder and to strive to achieve my best.
I do not know Mrs. Stapleton’s birth date. I always figured it was during the summer because, otherwise, we certainly would have celebrated it at school. She emailed me about being proud that she had turned 90. I gleefully sent her a $90 check, a salute to my youth when aunts and grandparents would give money to match the birthday. She wrote back saying she would not cash it, that she was embarrassed to have mentioned it. I replied that I would respect her choice, but it was a sincere gift. I sent the money to a local grade school that had nearly empty library shelves. With the check was a letter explaining the gift was being made in her name and why. When I told Mrs. Stapleton about it, she sent some more books for the school and one book for me.
When I saw that book, I was frozen in time for long minutes. It was Whose Little Red Jacket? A book I knew very well back when. When I was in first grade, I had a red jacket that looked exactly like the cover of the book. That was always the story I begged her to read. It was always the first book I wanted to check out of the library. Mrs. Stapleton finally refused to let me check it out because she wanted me to choose more challenging books to read. When I opened this “where-in-the-world-did-you-find-it?” book, I was stunned to discover that the protagonist’s name was the same as mine, even though she did not spell it correctly. I had absolutely forgotten that fact about this book. To think that she either kept that book or rounded it up later for me absolutely staggers my imagination!
Years ago, I read something that made sense to me. The book said that people who are important to us are “balcony” people. Whether dead or alive, even if they are no longer present in our lives, their contribution to our lives is such that we continue to feel their influence – as if we feel them watching us from a balcony and that, feeling their presence, we make the better choice. For me, that has to include my beloved first grade teacher. I owe all of my success to her. Without her nurturing during those early years, without her continuity in my life, I would not have learned to love to learn, to treasure books and to be anxious to learn as much as I could about everything. Without her positive influence, I shudder to think how I would have turned out. It is because of her influence that I am not a statistic. The news is full of stories of those accused of crimes blaming their past as the source of their bad action. I could never be on a jury, hear that claim and vote for the defendant because I, too, had a horrible childhood and did not make those same choices.
Teachers were greatly respected back then. Even now, despite her more recent cards where she signed her first name, I still call her Mrs. Stapleton. Though I am honored she wanted me to use her first name, that was never a bridge I comfortably crossed.
It was not until I grew up that I began to see Mrs. Stapleton through more mature eyes. I marvel at her investment in her students, remembering how she came to our home more than once not just to drop off things we'd left at school but to talk to Mother about us. I salute her strength in standing up to her principal and my Mother on my behalf. Most of all, I treasure her loyalty. As she said in an email to me once, even then, we had a special relationship. Yes, we did and yes, we do.
Tonight, my heart is full of tears. As time flows, the pain will ease. Underlying that pain are a few absolute certainties. She had a profound impact on my life. I loved her and she loved me and we knew that about each other.
My challenge is to live the rest of my life in a manner that honors her memory and to find a way to honor her in a manner that allows her legacy to continue.
How fitting that I should write in her memory…
Love without end,
Your first grader
Tuesday, February 07, 2012
I've been having a bad attitude for a while now about looming stress at work. My friend and coworker Yvonne is going on two vacations - one this Friday to Mexico to photograph monarch butterflies and next month to Canada to photograph the harp seals. Of course I am happy for her, but I am not at all happy about covering her desk. Past experience shows that she will be at least nominally grateful, her boss will merely grunt at me and they will expect that I will somehow be able to do her desk all day and still do my job! On top of that, I am training and mentoring a brand new student employee and trying to support 7 attorneys. I have no back-up when I go on vacation. So I have been full of self-righteous resentment and have not been happy about that. My internal efforts to adjust my attitude have not been successful.
Then last night, I clicked on an email link and read a really inspiring story. This week was the anniversary of the sinking of the USAT Dorchester by a German sub in 1943. A lot of men died that morning, but it could have been worse. Four chaplains were on board and they gave away their gloves and life jackets, spoke words of encouragement and faith to the men as they helped them get on lifeboats. As the ship sank, the chaplains stood arm in arm on the deck and prayed.
If they could do that, I thought, I can certainly handle what's on my plate! I once gave a Toastmaster speech about being surrounded by heroes. My elder brother gave his life at age 14 when he saved another boy's life, my younger brother has put his life on the line more times than he will tell me wearing the uniform of the US Navy, my father served in the army during the cold war, both grandmothers were nurses during WWII - the list goes on.
Reading the story of those four chaplains made me cry. I can only hope that. if ever presented with the opportunity to give of myself to someone else, that I would follow through.
Today's training session for the new process on Yvonne's desk went much better than I anticipated. I sang the Prayer of St Francis on the way to work and my resentment was gone. At the end of the day, I had an amazingly smooth commute home - I did not expect that given that I had stayed late. I am at peace and grateful for the attitude adjustment. I needed that!
Thursday, February 02, 2012
I have pretty much floundered for the past year for a variety of reasons and a collection of excuses. A few months ago, I joined the at work WW program, more to be the last person they needed in order to go than because I thought I would benefit. It was, for me, a colossal disaster both in terms of tonnage not lost and the emotion spiral that went with that.
They are trying to get the next session going, so I went to support the team. Most of the people at work are at goal or very close. I am the biggest by far. I am still morbidly obese. I have not committed to the session and it looks as if it is not going to go. They need 20 and they are not close to getting that many (people at goal do not pay so they don't count towards the body count.)
As we left the meeting, one of my friends pulled me aside and asked me how I am doing. She is at goal and has been for a while. She knows I have been struggling (it's obvious because my size has not changed much). In the course of the conversation, I said that I am not sure I can succeed but I know I need to because my life depends on it.
Long story short, she gave me a hug and said that she will walk with me every day if that is what it will take. I asked if she was sure and she said she is because we are friends. What I said about my life being at stake really caught her attention. It is not melodrama, it is the truth.
She gave me a hug and we are going to walk tomorrow. Her name is Linda, just like one of my SparkFamily members!
Tuesday, January 31, 2012
Today is my older brother's birthday. It is his 41st birthday in heaven. He died saving another boy's life. In death, the world saw he was a hero, but he was and is my hero in life. I thought about eating out for dinner, but traffic was too much, so I just came home. I thought about buying some sweets for dessert and walked to the corner store, but did not like anything I saw there. If only I'd stopped there, this would be a celebratory blog. I smashed a banana with chocolate flavored almond butter and spread it on some cinnamon graham crackers. In the background was an emotional story on that show called "Freaky Eaters", I had never seen the show before, but was doing dishes when it came on and did not change the channel when a story similar to mine came on. I cannot blame it on the emotional triggers. I should have changed the channel.
A few days ago was my 2 year anniversary on SparkPeople. I meant to blog, thought about it a few days before, but did not remember the day of. Perhaps it's because I am not pleased with how this journey has gone over the past year. I am not anywhere near my goal weight, not anywhere near making the full lifestyle change I thought would be part of my life by now.
I honestly am not sure I can succeed. That scares me because I know my life and the quality of it is at stake.
This is not fishing for encouragement or compliments or whatever. It is where I am today. I do not even dare fully express my thoughts.
Sunday, January 15, 2012
The leader of one of my teams emailed me the following:
Some of you may not be aware of a new SP feature recently added before members were advised.
There now is a new share bar added to our blogs that allows other members who "like" them to share them on their Facebook wall. Is this something you want? Many of us discuss personal thoughts, feelings and weight loss information in our blogs on SP that we'd just as soon not share with the Facebook and Twitter world. This new feature is a default setting on our SparkPages, however, it can be turned off.
If you'd like to turn this new feature off,
Go to your SparkPage.
Click on Edit My SparkPage.
Uncheck the "Show share bar on my blog posts" option on the upper right of the page.
Save your changes.
While nothing that we share on the internet is really private (for that reason alone we should be cautious as to what we do say in our blogs) and many of you may not be concerned about this new default setting on SP, this was new info to me and I wanted to pass it on as I only learned about it from a member on another team.
I have a Facebbok account, but I do not share anything about SP on it. I am leery of Facebook's respect for privacy, so I am very careful about how I use it. I DO enjoy being in touch with distant family and friends, but do what I can to minimize chances for anyone attempting to do nefarious things with my information.
This is, of course, a personal decision. Other people may have a different comfort level.
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