When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.
Yesterday, I received word that a beloved teacher from high school had passed away. Brother Slattery was one of those teachers that you just hold with you in your heart long after graduation.
Once I heard the news, I immediately went upstairs and retrieved the letter that he wrote to me in high school. I shed a few tears as I read the words that literally saved me, and gave me strength to return to school after having Stephen. It was like he was reading my mind that summer of ’86, knowing what I needed to hear, sensing that I was on the brink of giving up. It was a simple note, but one that continues to shape my life, even today.
And then I took some time to look at the posts of my friends on Facebook . This man, this glorious, quirky man with the twinkle in his eye and a passion for life had left unique imprints on the heart of every person he touched. Story after story flooded my news feed about him, and the things he said, the “above an beyond” activities he would organize for us that made our high school experience so rich and so meaningful. My letter was just one small example of his tireless efforts to make us all feel good about ourselves, to feel hopeful and faithful in our lives.
What a beautiful thing, to live a life that shaped the beliefs of so many, that inspired people to want more, to train a young person’s vision to see there IS more.
I like to think of him as one of the “shapers” in my life. A person who takes the time to mold young minds, to inspire them to become something more. At the time, I don’t think I realized he was even doing it. People often talk about the people of influence as the movers or shakers. But I believe it is the quiet, thoughtful shapers who bring about the most positive and profound change in the world. They just do it in this subtle way that may not be revealed or noticed right away. They plant seeds that they may never harvest themselves, but understand the value of their part in the bigger picture.
How very lucky we all are to have “shapers” such as him. People who give a damn, who see they have a responsibility to share their knowledge. He wasn’t like the masses, not by any stretch. He had been teaching for years by the time he walked into my classroom. But unlike so many who become apathetic or cynical with the passage of time and disappointments in life, he still had this passion that was infectious. He still believed we could all make a difference. He believed in living each and every moment to the fullest.
I wrote about him in my book. I had to, he played a big part in my life, whether he realized it or not. He helped me go back to school after having a baby, and then, 23 years later, when that baby died, he left his senior’s residence, and hitched a ride to my son’s funeral. In the summer of 2010, I had the opportunity to have lunch with him and two of my dearest friends who loved him as well. As we sat in a café on Water Street in St. John’s, I gave him my book, and explained what an impact he had on my life. I had tears in my eyes. And, in true Brother Slattery form, he gave me a devilish grin as he looked at the book and said, “Is it any good?”
And I, in the same insecure voice that he had listened to as I submitted a literature assignment, said “I don’t know. I hope so.”
I just loved that man.
I have posted the section of my book about Brother Slattery below, and, after some consideration, I have decided to share the letter with you. I do so because I think we need to celebrate the actions of the shapers of the world. I do so because his life rippled farther than we will ever realize. I share this because I think he would want us all to consider how we are helping shape our world. I think the best celebration of a life such as his is to continue his work, and to show other young minds the endless possibility in life, if they choose to believe and to jump in feet first.
Take some time today to think about the people who shaped your life, and reach out to say thank you. Then go out and do the same for someone else.
Excerpt from Just One Little Thing. July 11, 2009
Following the completion of the mass, people mulled around on the church steps. I looked around. When I was a teenager, I stood on these steps after mass, hoping to get a glance from a boy I liked. I walked out on these steps, releasing the held in emotions following the burial of my mother, then my father. I stood on these same steps on my wedding day, with Stephen by my side. Today, I looked around and saw love, not pain. And, standing, assisted with his cane, was Brother Slattery. Things had officially come full circle.
Brother Slattery was one of my teachers at St. Michael’s High School, but taught me so much more than the curriculum listed in the school agenda. Deep as the ocean, he made you ponder things in your life, and he came to me in a time when I needed some pondering. Advanced Literature. I sat there, with the weight of the world on my shoulders. Oh, I had it worse that the Lord of the Flies characters, I was suffering far more than The Old Man and The Sea. And he would ask questions of the group that made you pause. I remember one particular day; he was frustrated with someone’s lack of performance in his class, and said,
“You go through your life and you don’t pay attention. You don’t pay attention in my class, nor do you do so in your life. I bet you cannot even tell me how many stairs lead up to the senior side of this school. You walk them every day and you do not even know the answer.” he said with his slow, cold molasses like drawl that left me with a feeling of anticipation for his every word.
I thought about that statement, and some 24 years later, I can still recite it. That day, I did not know the answer to the question about the stairs. But from that moment on, I counted every stair of every staircase my feet would touch. And I paid attention to a few other things too.
When I left school in the spring to have Stephen, I was very unsure of where I would go from that point in my life. After giving birth to Stephen and losing Matthew, I was farther from answers than before. My summer was a blur, of lifestyle adjustments, pressure, diapers, feedings, feelings of deep anxiety and inadequacy in my ability to succeed at anything. The last thing on my mind was school, and to be honest, I did not know if I could face people. One quiet summer afternoon, the mail arrived, and in the pile sat a letter for me, with the school letterhead on it. I paused and looked at it for a long time, thinking it would have to be something negative. Although I was an Honor Roll student, I somehow had instantaneously convinced myself this must be related to the fact I was not worthy of returning. But, instead of the correspondence of doom, it was a simple and hand written letter from Brother Slattery. In it, he told me that life’s challenges sometimes turn out to be good teachers. He said I was smart, and I needed to come back to school, and finish and do good things in my life. That letter gave me the courage I needed to return after summer break, to go on and be successful . He never knew, nor did anyone else, but I read that letter over 1000 times.
And there he was, standing there with assistance, having travelled over five hours from his retirement home to be here. I have to say, God has it all figured out. He knew what I needed today, and somehow, he gave it to me. For when I saw that sweet man’s face, the feelings flooded me, filled my heart. Seeing him reminded me of the complete journey.