In a hole in the ground, there lived a hobbit.*
In a classroom above the ground, there sat a stool.
And on the stool, perched a very tall teacher who read stories about heroes who lived in holes and monsters who sat on clouds. She read tales of pancakes falling from the sky, children who fought for their rights, dogs who rescued humanity, and people who did the unexpected.
She fed her audience words they had never tasted properly before: oppression, silence, joy, grief, freedom, courage, absurdity.
Her voice rang clearly through the silent square room as tears streaked down her face. 30 of us, in tiny desks, waited in complete silence– shocked though it was by no means unexpected.
After several hundred pages, we had just walked away from the grave of two friends, and a sacred red fern.
She had read the tale before, probably hundreds of times, but she cried– as boldly and confidently as she did everything. It didn’t matter that they were just hounds. She cried as much for them as she did when we lost Beth March the week before.
Maybe even more.
We knew every nook and cranny of the strange reading stool because we stared at it for hours. Mrs. B’s long legs would cross and uncross under the flowing patterned skirts she so favored.
She was the first person I ever knew who wore bright blue shoes in real life. Her jewelry was bright, too– wooden beads linked together into a wide array of necklaces and bracelets.
Behind her grew our garden, the one the principal told her was a federal requirement. She told us that she would not be forced to plant beans. Instead, we grew crystals, and made tall metal flowers, and tiny origami ones. It was a garden of legend, the sort that few adults could truly appreciate.
Mrs. B loved it, though.
She would shake a carton of glitter over all our flowers and, if she was unable to do so herself, would ask if anyone had glittered the garden that day.
Glitter was a perfect fit to the magic in her classroom.
One day, in the middle of a particularly fierce scene between a small hobbit and a giant spider, she twisted her bead necklace so tightly that the strand broke.
The beads flew across the small room– all the red ones rolled to one side, and all the orange and yellow ones rolled to the other. She laughed happily, clapping her hands, declaring it the best type of magic.
I told her the red ones were probably lighter or less round, and that’s why they couldn’t roll to where the orange and yellow ones were.
She told me, “Rara, science only gets in the way if you let it. Everything is magic if you want it to be.”
And so it was.
Just like that– she created magic.
On our last day of school, we came into a classroom that had become a wonderland. Our metal flowers, made from coat hangers and tin cans, reached the ceiling in size. Our origami flowers made from squares of paper the size of our hands had morphed into a giant paper weeping willow. Our crystals were so big that they couldn’t be carried.
Our garden had grown– flourished, even– and it was wondrous. My friends danced beneath the copper bells and paper leaves.
To the side, quietly, I asked Mrs. B to confirm that this was her gift to us, not the work of magic.
She smiled at me and said, “Tomorrow, you’ll learn to be a skeptic. Tomorrow you’ll learn why this isn’t possible, and why you should be outraged in the face of such a lie. But today– rejoice, enjoy, and let it be magic. It won’t stop you from solving the world’s problems, and it won’t stop you from doing what’s right, and if you remember it all came from love– it won’t stop you from being amazing. In other words, Rara, there’s no harm in it. Just enjoy today.”
I smiled at her and pointed out the obvious. “You’d say the same thing tomorrow.”
“Of course,” she replied without missing a beat, “I’ve never let tomorrow catch up with me– and I wish you the same. I could never wish you a greater happiness than that!”
* First line of The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien
** The last line was Mrs. B’s way of alluding to the last line of Little Women. I also mention Beth March above. The story she cried over in the beginning was Where the Red Fern Grows.
I was so late on the last RTT bloghop, that I decided to be early this time. Mrs. B was probably my favorite teacher, though I’ve been blessed with many wonderful ones. Who knows? I might write a vignette for each, to share their awesomeness with you.
If you have a story about a teacher you’d like to share, you have plenty of time to link up with RTT. See you there.
So, were you the kid dancing under the copper bells– or the skeptic in the corner?