A Teacher’s Prayer
Light from the evening sun was peeking through wisteria, determined to take over the stoop where Mr. Smith sat. Outside was where he was happiest when summer began to give way to fall, and one takes notice that there is a pinch less sunlight with each passing day. The light of August made the whole world glow warm. Butterflies floated, sharing the warm evening breeze which made the sheets of white, drying on the clothes line next door dance their sad dance.
Children, laughing in the distance, made everything perfect, as evening began to peek over the tops of the tall pines, shadows growing long.
Mr. Smith found an old box that once contained a pair of shoes, but now was home to letters and notes and postcards. The shoes had long since been worn out. It was not unusual for Mr. Smith to find such a box in the house where he had spent most of his life, making his bed every morning, saying his prayers and watching the passage of time in his shaving mirror and in shadows on the floor as the years seemed to race by. Where had they gone and why in such a hurry?
With fingers thinned by age, he sifted through the letters and notes and post cards, something else not unusual for Mr. Smith. He liked remembering, closing his eyes and drifting through time like the billowy clouds of summer. Stirred by happy memories and sad memories, the ingredients of a life truly lived, he breathed in the preciousness of it all, mingled with the fragrance of roses and honeysuckles still abuzz with busy bees.
He could have been a rocket man. he reminded himself. That had been his dream growing up. There in the box was the old letter of acceptance to the engineering school and a promise of money to help him come there and study. It was from the dean of the college. He remembered his mother, not knowing what else to say when he showed her the letter that day in June so long ago, telling him, that was good.
If he were a rocket man, a builder of spaceships, he dreamed as child, he could climb inside of one of his creations and fly far away from the pain which lurked in the shadows and held him close to the ground.
In the end, he took out a pen and the best writing paper he could find and thanked the dean who made such an offer of kindness to him.
The sky, blue and endless as eternity, was where he would have flown his rockets he thought, wondering what his other life would have been like, had he packed his things in his father’s old suitcase and climbed aboard the bus which stopped at the courthouse every day on its way to places faraway; places he heard of and read about in books.
It was possible. Other children had did it, his friends and classmates, the ones he helped with their English papers and Algebra in those long ago school days. They were gone now. Where? He supposed ,to build the rockets and heal the sick and paint the pictures and write the books and all the other things he dreamed of doing as a child. Things he would never do. Then he smiled.
For in the box, once containing shoes, were other letters and notes and cards Mr. Smith treasured as much as the letter reminding him of what might have been. They had been written by tiny hands, just learning to form letters and put periods at the end of sentences, and grown up hands too, which were brave enough to return to school after being away for a very long time. They were letters and notes and cards and from those he taught.
With eyes full of wonder and minds full of questions, those who wrote the letters and notes and cards taught him too. These letters and notes and cards which he read so many times over the years, now creased by time and fading, reached far back even to the places his memory could no longer go. Still they made him smile, the words of gratitude and appreciation for whatever it was that he did while trying to help each and every student God sent his way.
He remembered his teachers, the ones who reached out for him when he showed up in school, wearing clothes worn out by another child long before they became his. He remembered the teachers who told him he could, when those closest to him were telling he couldn’t; that he couldn’t be a rocket man, or much of anything else. He remembered his teachers that believed in him, when he didn’t believe in himself and life seemed to have more thorns than roses. He remembered the teachers who made him start over, when he hadn’t done his best. He remembered the teachers with great expectations of the little boy he was, when he showed up in their classrooms so long ago feeling small and afraid.
With the sun setting and night coming, Mr. Smith closed his eyes, praying that he was a teacher like those who helped him find his way. Then, as twilight twinkled, he gently returned the cards and the notes and the letters to the box which once contained shoes; shoes worn out a long, long time ago.
This is a work of fiction dedicated to those who teach. Edward Reed 2019