It was “Meet The Teacher Night” at our high school. One of the parents was talking to me and another teacher about their daughter. Let’s call her “Becky” (not her real name). Becky’s mom went on and on about how Becky would take her violin home to practice her violin. I knew Becky’s playing ability.
After all, I’ve known Becky since her junior high years. Her skill was about average for her class period. She was dedicated but still had some rough edges to smooth out in her technique. This is fine. This is why we teach.
The mom was so excited about her daughter and said, “I want to show you a video.” Becky, protested in a teenage-embarrassment-kind-of-way, to her mom showing me a video of her practicing. Her mom was gleaming. It’s her daughter right? Of course, she is going to be so proud of her. Becky’s mom pulled out her phone and started swiping in search of an old Christmas video. She found it. Her daughter was a playing a popular Christmas tune at their kitchen table wearing her pajamas. I thought to myself, “it’s a little out of tune but at least she is practicing.”
It was a simple but fun memory. Everything was as it should be.
Becky ended up staying in my classroom after this with her friend Robert (not his real name). Robert was a good kid too. He was a former student ready for graduation at the time. They both stayed to chat a little bit longer and Becky’s mom left to another room to catch up with another teacher. Then the other teacher in the room with me asked Becky “Are you going to tell Mr. Lopez?” I wondered what Becky was about to say. I had no idea what was about to come out of her mouth. None.
She simply said, “Oh yeah, I had cancer. When I was 3 weeks old, I was diagnosed with leukemia. I had to go through treatment until I was about 3 years old. Then I didn’t have it anymore.”
I was completely blindsided by this information. My thoughts raised their voice, “I’ve known you for HOW LONG?! and I never knew this.” I felt so bad. I should have known.
She went on to say, “Yeah, I don’t really remember. The only reason I know is because when I was little they showed me a picture of everyone praying for me.”
My soul cried inside a little. I said to her, “You have to know why your mom was sharing the videos of you practicing the violin. Do you know? Your story is inspirational. Your life is inspirational.”
Becky let it all sink in for a moment. “Of course she will show off your video! She is super proud of you. That’s awesome.”
I started having one of those conversations in my head you know? In my head, I told her, “Your mother saw the beginning of your story and how frail you were but now everyone can see you happy, healthy and even playing the violin. That is amazing. You’re a cancer survivor!”
Becky’s mom saw the whole journey but Becky didn't.
I don’t think Becky ever saw herself that way though. As cancer survivor I mean. In Becky's world, she didn’t experience it even though intellectually she comprehends it. For her, life was just normal. I’m pretty sure that’s what her mom would prefer anyways. Normal is good.
Then I felt like God spoke to me through this story.
The reason you’re doing good now is because when you were in danger, before you realized it, people were already covering you in prayer. You have been protected. You are protected.
My soul was lifted as I remember all those who have ever prayed for me. My mom. My family. Friends. Strangers.
As the conversation got deep all of sudden, the attention shifted to Robert, Becky’s friend standing next to her. I asked him, “And you…what are you doing after graduation?”
I was expecting the popular answers like school, work or the military. Not this time.
He looked at me straight faced in the eye and said, “I want to find my father.”
My soul ached again. I clenched my jaw such for a moment to recollect my face from the hurt I felt from what he just said. I looked back at him.
“It takes a lot of courage to do that man” I said.
Robert went on to say he knew his dad was in Mexico. His dad had another family already. He said his father didn’t really want anything to do with the family he started so long ago.
The only thing I could think to encourage Robert was to say, “One day you will have a child, and they are going to ask about what their grandpa was like and at least you will be able to say you tried. That is good enough. It takes a lot of guts. That’s great man. Go for it. Why not?”
Robert took it all in. I know he felt encouraged.
That night was reflective for me. It helped me sharpen my perspective and gave greater clarity for why I teach and who I teach. I had no idea what stories were out there. I realized we all have a story to tell.
Was I their teacher that night or were they mine?