When something good comes into our lives, we tend to hold onto it a little tighter. We keep it close to our hearts and learn everything we can from it. We might not want it to end, but sometimes we don’t have a choice.
In the process of coming to terms with that, however, we can often become comfortable. Too comfortable, perhaps to the point where we forget that things like peace of mind and calmness aren’t always a given.
We have to let go of automatic comfort at some point, whether it’s brought into our lives by a certain person, place or thing. It’s not always easy like flipping a switch or cracking a smile. It might not even come in the form of a harsh goodbye or a difficult lesson that needed to be learned.
It might just simply be a mutual show of respect between two people. That’s exactly what it was for me as I got older and realized that comfort – at least my own – had to be earned just like everything else in my life. I got my chance when I came face-to-face with one of my tenth-grade teachers, who completely changed my perspective of what a teacher was supposed to be.
With that came with a different view of the way a teacher carried themselves and conducted business in the classroom. It was something I had never encountered in the years that I’d been going to school. Not only that, but I would soon gain the tools I needed to truly move on to bigger and better things in life.r
Technology helped me do that in a big way, but I knew the rest was up to me. And me alone. I had gotten through junior high with a growing confidence that people saw there was more to me than just my cerebral palsy, having written for my school newspapers every year. It was a feeling that I wasn’t completely familiar with because of past experiences. Now it was time to see how far it would take me as I entered high school.
It was a breezy end-of-summer day in 2001, about forty-eight hours before the start of my sophomore year I was running through my schedule and meeting my teachers for the first time, with my mom by my side. The bleach-blonde sun brightened and faded through a high window, spilling its light down a corridor of classrooms.
The clickity-click of the motor in my wheelchair echoed through thick, empty walls. I passed at least two-dozen rooms, doors shut with lights on, before stopping at the last room at the end of the hall – room 329, biology.
The door was open. My eyes immediately traced the circular pattern in the wood, and I prayed it wouldn’t trace back to the days when I was just “a girl in a wheelchair”. I drove a few feet further to see a lumberjack-like silhouette of gentle quietness, hunched over at the desk in the front of the room with a pen in hand.
“Hi there. Are you Erin?” the tall, burly man with a clean-cut goatee asked, as he calmly put the pen down and stood up. His shadow filled the doorframe when he walked into the hallway. I waited for it to lag behind, but it spilled onto the marbled linoleum floor outside his classroom. I felt like I was looking up at The Eiffel Tower.
He extended a handshake right away. My fingers were sprawled like limbs on a naked body.
I nod a decisive “yes” to his question, but my mind was fishing for proof that my chair didn’t define who I was.
“I’m Mr. DeAntonio. Mr. D. for short,” he said without a glance at my mom. “I heard you coming down the hall. Are you a good student?”
“Well, I try.” My head flew off its hinges again. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but there was something welcoming about the diplomatic tone of his voice.
“It takes her longer to finish her assignments, and she’ll need somebody to take her notes,” my mom chimed in.
She didn’t say much during the hour-and-a-half we spent in that hallway as she took in the scene that was unfolding in front of her.
“We can work with that,” Mr. D. calmly replied. “No worries. If we run into any problems in class, I expect Erin to help me out. I can already tell she’s a smart cookie!”
This was it. This was the kind of treatment I’d been waiting so long for. It was exactly what I had been asking people to do. The fact this was coming from someone who would simultaneously shape me as a human being, was even more impressive. All of this was done very quietly, but it was also very obvious at the same time. Mr. D. demanded respect, and he expected the same from his students.
He wasn’t trying to pull the wool over my eyes. He wasn’t trying to convince me that he was radically different than any teacher I’d ever had up to this point, either. He had a very simple, straight-forward approach to teaching, which carried over into the way he treated others. I knew he expected the same from me as his other students, and he was encouraging in helping to find ways for me to do things in class, on my own.
I felt like I was on my way to find my place in the world, but I wouldn’t have to do it alone. Mr. D. was – and still is – one of the many people in my life who saw something special in me before I knew what to do with it.
It had nothing to do with my cerebral palsy. He made a remark that I will remember forever, “all students have a problem, some you can see, others you don’t”.
Good things may come and go. They might even be disguised as a big, towering mountain you have to climb, but don’t loosen your grip. You might miss out on something great.
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