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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 1 – Beginner)
Topic: Empty Nester/Retirement (from work) (09/10/09)

TITLE: Making a Difference
By Shiloh Andrus


The hallway was quiet save for the soft clacking of her heels against the worn linoleum floor. However, for Mrs. Cornwell, the silent echoes of so many years gone by welcomed her and sent a wave of bittersweet longing through her heart. She shifted her heavy load of books and entered the small classroom where she had spent the last forty years of her life and suddenly she felt as if she were standing there for the very first time. On that fall day in 1969, she remembered feeling so overwhelmed by the awesome responsibility that was now placed upon her small shoulders… teaching had seemed like such a great challenge. Yet, at the time, she truly believed it was her calling.

Carefully, she placed her load of books on the old desk and sat down in her tattered, leather chair. Looking now at all of the empty desks sitting before her, she wondered for a moment, “Did I really make a difference?” Lowering her head into her hands, she sighed.

It took some time, but finally she reached for a cardboard box and began to place files, mementos and knickknacks inside. After some time of opening cabinets, removing her personal paraphernalia, and dusting off old plaques, she noticed a yellow envelope laying quite forgotten on one of the uppermost shelves of the bookcase. Her name was written in beautiful script across the top. She wondered for a moment how the letter had been forgotten. However, musings aside, she sat once again and opened the letter. What she saw made her smile. Inside was a class portrait from the year of 1975. Circled in red ink was the face of a little boy with blond curls and an infectious smile. “Timothy Henderson,” was written neatly in the corner of the note. Yes, she remembered Timothy; always late for class, the first to pick a fight, and the last one to admit he had done wrong. However, she also remembered there was so much more to his story than just the occasional split lip and forgotten homework. Timothy’s father had died in Vietnam leaving behind a little boy who knew no other way to deal with his emotions than to lash out at those around him. Yes, she remembered Timothy and for all of his difficulties, he had been so special to her. Breathing deeply, she opened the note and began to read.

Dear Mrs. Cornwell,

I read in the paper that you are retiring and I thought I’d jot you a quick note. You may not remember me, so I’ve included this picture hoping it will put a face to a name. I want to thank you Mrs. Cornwell, for not only being a great teacher, but also for believing in me. I went through so much after my dad died in the war and my mom was too filled with her own grief to notice the anger of a little boy. But you noticed and it meant so much … it means even more now.

It got me thinking and I discovered something I think is pretty special. You see, there are many architects who have built great bridges, and many musicians who have composed powerful symphonies, but I believe it is teachers like you who have truly inspired greatness. We, your students, are your bridges - we are your symphony. Our lives represent all that you have accomplished and if we fail or succeed in life, we can at least say we tried. That, I think, was your greatest lesson!

Thank you Mrs. Cornwell for what you have put into my life. All that you have done did not go unnoticed - It has meant the world to me!

Timothy Henderson

Wiping her eyes with the back of her hand, Mrs. Cornwell gazed again at the empty chairs sitting before her old, dilapidated desk. Now, in the light of Timothy’s note, she no longer saw them for their emptiness, instead a lifetime of memories flooded her heart filled with the faces of so many children whose successes, she now realized, were her own and in that moment, she felt - inspired.

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This article has been read 456 times
Member Comments
Member Date
Shilo Goodson09/17/09
This was a great story. We all need to appreicate more those who make those huge differences in our lives.
Sunny Loomis 09/21/09
Excellent story. It touches on life from two points of view. Well done.
Patricia Protzman09/23/09
Very good story and well-written. I had a few tears while reading it.
Sarah Elisabeth 09/24/09
"We, your students, are your bridges - we are your symphony." I loved this line! Well done and congrats on your placing!
Charla Diehl 09/24/09
After reading your story I see that your title has a double meaning. I was right there with Mrs. Cromwell feeling sad, and then Timothy cheered us both up. I enjoyed this from start to end--and I'm happy for you that it placed high in the rankings. I'll look forward to reading more of your work.
Lisa Johnson09/25/09
Very tender story that reminds us the difference one person can make in many lives. Thanks for sharing, and congratulations on your third place win.