I received my first Christmas card of the season today, from my high school World Cultures teacher. World Cultures was one component of a course called “Humanities.” It included, aside from World Cultures, Speech and English class as well.
Looking back at that course from my life now, I’m almost tempted to laugh. A
sad, somewhat disbelieving, somewhat awed chuckle with a hint of mirth. She
taught us so much, tried to teach us so much more. She was herself quite
cultured in the world and endeavored to share all her experiences with her
students. We were not cultured, our blue-collar town on the edge of a decaying
manufacturing giant, a city with ethnic lines left from immigration patterns a
hundred years ago, a place where we could tell the difference between those
with German, Polish or Swedish heritage, but not between the first-generation
Chinese, Vietnamese or Laotian immigrants. A classroom full of students the
majority of whom, I can say from my last high school reunion, were
not destined for four-year college or moving out of the state.
It was the 1996-97 school year; she tried to teach us about the Rwandan
genocide. The facts were learned, but nothing really sank in until last year
when I saw Unexplored
Interior at Mosaic Theater here in D.C. Her teaching had put a seed
in my head, but not like a bean seed to sprout and grow gradually, like a
popcorn seed that exploded with meaning and awe as I started to understand just
what she had taken on in even trying to get us to understand something so
inconceivable to our young minds even while the world was still seeking to
understand how and why and what.
She brought in couscous for us try on a world food day. I’d never heard of
it before; I don’t think any of us in class had ever had it before. I liked it
but went home and ate my potatoes and veggies; for the next dozen-some years
couscous remained an exotic dish to come across in the fancy instant-food
section of the grocery store where very salty little just-add-water cups of soup
and grain appeared. Now, there are 6 tubs of couscous in my pantry, owing to my
inability to properly manage my Amazon Subscribe and Save subscriptions, or my
ability to accidentally order massive quantities of things I don’t
need---however you want to view it.
She organized and chaperoned a group trip to Paris---she was also the French
teacher---giving us opportunities to see places like Versailles and Monet’s
garden up close. Again, places I wouldn’t even begin to understand until much
later, until some other experience of life connected dots she’d drawn on my
There are probably many more seeds sitting in my head, waiting to pop, many
more dots on my brain waiting for life to draw the connecting lines.
I thought of her last week, standing in Switzerland, looking at artistic
Christmas cards written in French, wondering if she could have imagined this 20
years ago, imagined that I’d be standing there, in Geneva, yards from my
ridiculously fancy hotel, in a suit, on official travel, staring at tiny paper
birds adorning a script “Meilleurs Voeux.” She always saw so much more in us
than we could possibly see in ourselves. She challenged us to dream beyond our
classroom walls, our snowy streets, our giant lake.
She taught us about far-off places I thought I’d never see and tried to get
us to see the same in the differences, the us in every them.
I am so very thankful for that, and thankful that my Christmas season has
begun with a beautiful card from her and a thoughtful note that continues
to emphasize the us in every them.
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