by Michelle Pierce Hamilton
This is perhaps an unusual story for me to post in my beBlog, as it really has nothing to do with tea – except that I recommend as you read it, you sit with a soothing cup of tea and just ‘be’ for a few moments. This is a true story of what happened to me today and I felt I needed to share it. Perhaps this story will resonate with you, as it has for me.
I was in a shop browsing today when I overheard a conversation between the shop owner and a man I perceived to be a chatty local regular – the kind that seemed to be a familiar visitor who is neither friend nor special in any way to the shop owner, but simply one who’s visits are expected and perhaps tolerated. I perceived the visitor to be almost a nuisance to the shop owner, but that his visit was a part of the visitor’s routine, and that he valued the experience as an important pleasure of his small world. These were my judgments upon my initial eavesdrop, and I empathized with the shop owner for tolerating the interaction.
What followed, however, touched me beyond words and reminded me how, in the smallest of interactions, even as a by-stander, the most unsuspecting souls are our teacher.
The visitor proceeded to tell the shop owner how as a small boy in elementary school, he was put in “Special Ed” class after being diagnosed with ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder). He described to the shop owner that entry to his classroom was referred to by other students in his school as ‘the Dummy Door’, and that a group of bullies would wait to taunt students as they entered or exited – to mock their favourite targets, knock lunch boxes or other items they felt they could extract or defame. My heart sunk as I listened. I perceived the visitor to be of approximately the same age as myself. I remember the “Special Ed” class in my elementary school – though myself, I was a very successful student, nearly always at the top of my class. What it may have felt like to be a Special Ed student was something I had no idea how to identify with. It affected me to hear this man describe how he had been tormented and terrified every day, all day. I felt a sickness in my stomach to think about how under those circumstances, how ineffective any attempts to improve his learning experience would have been. His story did not shop there.
Some days he would not have much of a lunch to bring to school because of his home situation. What he did bring would sometimes get knocked or taken, but eventually this problem ceased, because there was no longer any lunch to take. The visitor explained to the shop owner that his teacher must have noticed after several days because one day she gently asked why he did not have a lunch? He told her his mother did not make him one and though he wanted to pack one for himself, there was no food in their home for him to take. So his teacher told him to bring his coat and they left the school on lunch break. She took him to a local café and told the man behind the counter to let the boy order anything he wanted – she bought him a hearty lunch that day and it was glorious! She then called the boy’s mother to come into school to meet with her. His mother came to school and quite ashamed, she explained to the teacher and principal that she was an alcoholic; what little money she had went to her booze and cigarettes and though she had intentions of taking care of the boy, she could not help herself, often leaving nothing left to buy food at home or to send to school. The authorities got involved after this and the visitor explained that this was how he came to live with this aunt. The teacher was indeed a very kind and caring person – she made special watch over the boy after this – and told him that no boy in her class would ever go hungry and that he should come see her if ever he had any trouble. The bullies did not dare bother him any more. Though I was not looking at him as I was browsing and listening, I detected a smile in his voice as he recounted that first day he came to school with a full brown lunch bag after he moved in with his aunt – and that it contained a baloney sandwich wrapped neatly in wax paper, and an apple. Never again did he come to school without lunch. Never again was he afraid when he walked through the ‘Dummy Door’. He told this story just as was his experience; without embarrassment and not to invoke any pity or emotion, but also without any discretion as shoppers as myself could not help but overhear, even if I tried not to.
What happened next was what truly touched me. The visitor asked the shopkeeper, “Would you like to see a picture of my teacher?”. I strained to not intrude on their moment and forced myself to not look as I heard the visitor unfold a photo, I presume, from his wallet. I heard him explaining, “This is her”, in a happy tone, as he pointed to the picture. He must have carried that picture with him all of these years! This woman who cared enough to notice a small boy in Special Ed without a lunch, to buy him a glorious lunch in his darkest moment and make him feel special and safe. A woman who cared enough to intervene and protect him. I felt the love and kindness of this woman from so many years ago, touch me, in the present moment. I felt her kindness touch everyone in that store, who overheard the visitor’s story. Suddenly, I felt sorry for my initial judgment of this visitor, and instead what I felt, transformed into gratitude – gratitude to have heard this story and be reminded of the importance of compassion and the courage to act bravely and kindly towards others. In the face of such a story, I wondered, would I have the courage to be so caring and take action, if it were me?
It is moments like this, that no matter how “good” a person I think I am in my own ego, that I must continuously strive to be more. The world depends upon the kindness and caring of people like that special woman. Ordinary people like me. Like you.
The visitor, as a little boy, was blessed to have an incredible teacher and now, let him be ours.
Be Kind. Love your cup.