Six pairs of wondering eyes glared at me when I walked into the Sunday school classroom. I supposed the girls had the usual questions. Does she really care? Will we like her? Is she strict? Boring? Having taught seventh grade girls for a couple of years; I had some questions as well. Why out of a class of fifty, was the average attendance only five or six? Would those who were coming do so had their parents not been faithful members? Because I took the position seriously, I decided to write notes to all the girls on the roll.
After a few months of writing fifty notes a week, I received a response. It was one of my notes returned. “No forwarding address” was stamped in red letters across a precious girl’s name. I was not surprised. Some of the girls had neither attended nor been contacted in years. Feeling compelled, I continued to write the notes. Perhaps it was a sense of duty or because I was too embarrassed to call or visit. I was grateful the church provided the postage as well as the cards.
The notes were simple. I invited the girls to class expressing my desire to meet them. Occasionally I would inform them of upcoming events or explain what we, as a class, were doing. More often than not, the task seemed futile but I continued to reach out to the girls even though it appeared to be a waste of time and energy. Over time my motive had changed. I was no longer trying to fulfill a sense of duty. I was compelled by a love for these girls that I did not even know.
Several months passed before I received a second response. This time, however, it came in the form of a message delivered to the church by a nurse. She wanted to talk to the lady that had written notes to one of her patients. Angel asked her to try to find me. Although she wanted to, Angel could not come to class but she wanted to meet me. After making the arrangements with her parents, we met at her home.
At first glance she looked frail. Cancer, like a parasite, had robbed her of the vibrancy of her youth. Chemotherapy had thinned her silky black hair. We were both a bit nervous but liked each other immediately. Our eyes glistened as we embraced. We exchanged trivial information about ourselves, then I told her about the class. Because she was usually confined to her home, the class was invited to join her there. Like myself, the girls fell in love with her. Angel was determined not to allow her present circumstances to dampen her spirits. I was amazed at her resolve.
During the Christmas season, I invited the girls to my home for a sleepover.
Angel’s parents, though reluctant, allowed her to come. The girls had a wonderful time. Each of them, like a sister would, made sure Angel was included in the games, chatter and antics. Their greatest joy came from trying to play tricks on me. Squeezing toothpaste from it’s tube and carefully placing it where I might step on it, hiding my things and attempting to cover the toilet seat with plastic wrap were just a few of their schemes. Of course their plans were thwarted because I always found out about them. As the night wore on I noticed that Angel had retreated to the couch. She was getting tired but did not speak of it. I wondered how she must have felt being trapped in an uncooperative body. After assuring the girls and I that she was fine, I decided not to call her parents to pick her up. She spent the rest of the night watching the other girls. Angel did not feel the least bit sorry for herself. She told me the next morning that it was one of her best Christmases. None of us knew it at the time but it was also her last. We were all saddened by the news of her death.
I continued to teach. The girls all got promoted to the eighth grade and our lives took different paths. Over the years I have thought a lot about “my girls”. I have often found myself wondering why I also loved all those girls I had never met. What kept me committed to a task that produced so few results? Then I must ask myself what would have happened had I never met Angel. What if she had not been able to spend her last Christmas time with the class? Some of my questions could only be answered by the greatest life lesson I have ever learned. It is not the big, the visible the wonderful or even the costly things we do that change lives. It is the simple, honest, sincere and seemingly unnoticeable things we do that are truly noteworthy.
©2009 Valerie Chambers
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