A Kindred Spirit
I have written about innumerable paradigm shifts, that have occurred since I have extricated myself from panic attack syndrome, but there was one shift that took place long before I ever went to therapy. A new teacher had joined us on staff, and one of my earliest encounters with her, took place in Paul’s office, one early September morning, as I lamented the fact that I had a summer cold, the worst kind.
Of course they were the worst kind, not because of their intensity, but because of the timing. One expects “colds” when it’s cold, a sort of “Let’s heap everything down at once” so to speak. When a cold rears its snotty head at the same time as Labor Day, then there’s a sense of unfairness to the whole sordid affair.
On this particular morning, it was early, and the soft September warmth was already quite evident in the coolness of the quad, with the sweet scent of summer permeating the air with its fragrance. Paul’s classroom door was propped open, and early morning arrivals were already shunting backpacks and books into the classroom, so as to be able to socialize until first period, without having to scramble when the bell rang.
As was our custom in the moments prior to the start of class, established about a minute after I came on staff, Paul was behind his desk in his office, his feet anywhere but on the ground, and I was similarly situated, within reaching distance of the coffee machine, each of us clutching a fresh piping hot cup of Joe. We both drank our poison black, and provided it for any other staff people, yard duty, or the substitute teachers, as they occasionally rotated through our environment, who were interested. My favorite line was, “Sure, and it’s cheap. If we drink it all, we’ll make more.”
So I was in full whine mode, expounding on the unfairness of it all, when we became aware of a presence in the classroom, that smacked of non-student energy, a beaming, bustling dynamo, with a brilliant offering of dazzling fiery color, cascading out and down from her scalp, and complementing that smiling visage. It was Laura, and she was making early morning rounds in her new environment. She had seen the classroom door standing invitingly open, and had sallied into our space, glancing around as she entered the office, and greeting us cheerily.
We both came to our feet, preparatory to rising and doing the polite thing, but she brushed our attempts to be courteous aside. “Conserve your strength, Gentlemen, we’re going to need it.” How did she know we were gentlemen?
“Hi, Laura, nice to see you. Are you ready for action, ready for danger?” I greeted her warmly, because she had made a glowing impression, with her entry on campus. She had told the hiring committee, that she was the most enthusiastic math teacher, that they would ever encounter, and that if hired, we would find that she infused her students with her enthusiasm. Being similarly imbued with an innate exuberance myself, I saw Laura as a kindred spirit, in an arena often lacking in those qualities.
“And how are you the gorgeous September morning?” Expectantly she turned those high-beams on, and assessed the two of us, her head slightly tipped to one side, allowing that colorful bouquet of brilliance to frame her blue eyes with warmth and vitality. She took in my watery eyes, glistening nostrils and general air of malaise, saying simultaneously, “Oh! No! Summer cold? Do you have Gypsy Cold Care? Are you taking echinacea? What’s that?” She was looking somewhat alarmed at the across-the-counter cold medication, that was resting suspiciously close to my left hand.
“Yeah,” I grinned nasally at her. “Wouldn’t you know it? It’s not enough that I have to teach, but I get to sport a cold. It’s enough to bring a good man down.”
“Well, it doesn’t have to. You see, I do not allow a cold to take me off my game. I attack it, give it no ground, treat it like an invader, and throw every weapon I can get my hands on at it, full force. You don’t know me well enough yet, to know that a cold does not have a chance against me.” I did not doubt a word. Where was this person when I was in ninth, eleventh and twelfth grades, groveling pitifully in the grip of Demon Math, unable to access the help that was presented, because of my inability to process information orally.
I have to tell you, Laura was most convincing. It was a combination of the effervescence, the convincing logic, and the message. “You are the boss. A cold is an intruder. Show no mercy--take no prisoners!” I loved it. I also found it inspiring that this diminutive person, with her warmth and smile, could sweep into the somewhat sterile environment, of Paul the science teacher, and bring it to life.
I listened to her message, I applied the proffered solutions to my problem, took charge of my own afflicted vessel, and trampled that cold into submission. I had to have Paul watch my back, as I needed to frequent the boys’ restroom right around the corner, to let that tea run its course, but it was well worth it, as the cold went with it, hopefully into the same receptacle.
The rest is history. I have never purchased the drug companies’ weak-sauce offerings since then, and I have certainly never let a sniveling replica of my true self, assume control again, having learned my lesson well, from a teacher who knows her stuff, in and out of a math class.