Thursday, December 8, 2016

Cultural Popcorn

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 brain.

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.  

1 comment:

Jeannie said...

That is so nice of her to continue to keep in touch with you. I'm sure she's glad that something finally 'popped' in you.