Tonight, I heard that my sixth grade teacher, Mrs. Kyle, is retiring, and I cannot believe it because 1: she cannot possibly be old enough to retire, and 2: it seems a little sad to me that there aren’t any more kids who are going to get to call her their teacher. Even into a few grad school classes now, she remains one of my most treasured teachers. Even now, as I’m about to turn 33 tomorrow, I am still learning the lessons she tried to teach me.
To be honest, I cannot tell you which science units we studied that year, and the only book I specifically remember from that year was Over Sea, Under Stone, but as I finish the hardest year of my life, I do so holding onto a few lessons she imparted when I was just 11 years old:
- P.M.A., which stood for “Positive Mental Attitude,” was one of her “keys of success,” and I can still hear her saying “PMA!” in her cheery-teacher voice when we were all grumbling about something. This is the biggest, hardest, longest lesson she taught me – the one I’m still learning – probably the biggest lesson from any teacher I’ve had. It’s what rings in my ears when I am somewhere where people are griping about everything, or complaining about not wanting to do something. Even when I’m one of the people complaining. This year, I feel like I understand better than I ever have before that attitude changes everything. Not only how I feel about it, but how successful I will be in my endeavors. It’s humbling to admit that it took 22 years for that to sink in, but better late than never, right?
- I can do things that are weird, different, and scary. Like dissect a squid with my bare hands, no tools allowed, even with a moderate fear of all water dwelling animals. It was every level of gross and more than a little scary, but I did it. My last six months or so has been a lesson in bravery and determination, but if I can use my fingers to rip apart the slimy carcass of a squid on my laminate school desk, I can handle almost anything.
- Life is beautiful. In addition to being my favorite, Mrs. Kyle is hands-down the most beautiful teacher I have ever had, not only because she is objectively beautiful, but because she was full of life. She probably smiled more than any other teacher I had. She seemed to believe in teaching for the love of learning. Yes, we had standardized tests, but she also taught us to sing “Happy Birthday” in Italian, and bits of French at the start of reading class every day, and knew how to laugh at herself when she made an accidental PG-13 comment after our trip to the Art Institute. It’s the kind of beauty I want to have, that I think I am starting to have.
I was one of thousands of kids she had over her teaching career, but she was one of a few dozen teachers to me. Occasionally, I modify a familiar African proverb to say “it takes a village to raise a person,” because the need to learn and care for one another doesn’t stop when we reach adulthood. I am overwhelmingly privileged to have been raised, in part, by Mrs. Kyle.
Tomorrow, I will wake up another year older. Like I’ve mentioned before, I haven’t looked forward to a birthday so much in decades – my attitude is most definitely positive. I’m going to do my first 5K tomorrow, which is scary to me because I used to not think I could ever do one. When I turned 32, I didn’t see a lot of beauty in the life in or around me, but now, I can’t help but see it. I see it in the faces of people I love, in new experiences, in hugs from old friends and smiles from new friends, in art and music and poetry and cooking and lilac bushes. I see it in me. For the first time in maybe ever, I feel a little beautiful. Not a lot, but a little… and that’s an awfully good place to be in at the start of 33.