Tapping lightly on the classroom door, I stuck my head into the room at the mumbled welcome and spied a teacher sitting at her desk at the back of the room. The dim lamp light haloed her head and revealed piles of papers precariously perched on the desk.
“Connie?” I whispered, not wanting to break into her concentration.
“Hmmm,” she responded, her blonde head still bent over papers. Then she looked up from her task and smiled.
And that was the first time I saw Connie’s smile light up a room. Her generosity led me into her classroom as she’d volunteered to let my Student Leadership class meet there every day during her conference period. I don’t know if she realized the full impact of her generosity. We invaded her room with poster boards and paint. She only laughed in good humor when we made the faculty little reindeer necklaces with goo-goo eyes (that somehow got scattered all over the floor). Nor did she mind the endless tissue paper flowers that grew in her room as we prepared decorations for the first spring dance.
Two years later, Connie and I became team members. We shared the same one-hundred-twenty students throughout the day. Our rooms, spitting distance from each other, became windows into our teaching styles and personalities. And every day, I saw Connie’s smile.
No matter how badly the days disintegrated, I knew I could pop into Connie’s room to receive a smile and a portion of her stash of chocolate. That student who drove me absolutely crazy? She’d pull him into her fold, shooting me a smile and a wink. She had tremendous patience, a wicked sense of humor, and the ability to put things into perspective allowing me to make it to the end of those rough days.
It’s easy to smile when talking of the people we love, and Connie’s joy over her children’s milestones spilled out in delightful tales accompanied, always, with her bright grin. However, adversity is more difficult to welcome with smiles and laughter, but that was Connie’s way. When she received her diagnosis of ovarian cancer, she never once doubted the necessity of her fight. It didn’t matter how weak she felt from chemo, or how worn she was from the stress, her smile always greeted me just like that very first time.
The final time I saw Connie, her family and friends encircled her with warmth, comfort, and love. When I leaned closer to hear her words, she asked about my mother, and then told me to have strength. Then she gave me, again, her brilliant smile.
Copyright 2011 Elizabeth Abrams Chapman