Yesterday, my wife and I attended a memorial service for a friend – a teacher. Our kids (my step-kids) and their partners traveled from Boston to speak. After all, 20 years ago, Patsy was their elementary school teacher. She was also our neighbor, where she lived with her partner Mary just a few steps away. At the service, our kids spoke of the impact Patsy had on their lives, how she was always there for them, teaching them to live positively and in joy, and how she always seemed to see the best in them – as if she could see the wonderful people they would one day be. Mary’s words were spoken as if she was just reading the words Patsy would have said if she was there herself at her own memorial service. She used words of gratitude, love, and light.
As I stood there, looking out over the fields of green where our kids once played, where we shared many days in the Deerfield Valley of Wilmington, Vermont, as a family, I looked up at the small rainbow in the clouds as a ukulele-player sang “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” I remembered the words Patsy said to me years ago, and how she was always there for me then, seeing my perspective as a step-parent-in-training during those difficult family times… and how she also seemed to understand my future long before I could.
I imagined the words she would have spoke to me yesterday as I stood there. Many of the words she had spoken to me before.
“You have been a teacher, a mentor, a father, and a loyal husband. You have chosen to maintain your character and integrity during difficult and challenging circumstances. Indeed, you have continued to seek the essence of what is really meaningful and purposeful in life – expressing selfless and unconditional love. You maintained a sense of quiet humbleness in a situation when the kids’ natural father received the sympathy of a community and while their mom struggled to find her way after tragic times. You maintained a sense of strength when you alone were the one who had to make the difficult family decisions and just be there constantly with no fanfare, taking the heat when things went badly. And you did the best you could even when just being there would be taken for granted. You learned to be open to what comes – and in doing so, you found the gift of who you really are. And, isn’t it so nice now to look out over these fields, to see your kids shine, and to quietly feel the impact of the nurturing home space we all created for them here in Wilmington? Please know that your gift, too, is to be a teacher – to help nurture young seeds of life as they grow, and to see in them their natural gifts – their sacred souls – that they too will one day share with the world. We haven’t spoke recently, but I still walk with you. Now, more closely than ever. Share your love. Keep teaching cooperation and the value of team-spirited togetherness. Always see kids through my eyes.”
I smiled quietly as the music stopped while the next generation of kids still played. I watched as the breeze took bubbles and balloons up into the sky.
I stood proudly as community members offered complimentary words of gratitude to my kids. I saw in them what I had dreamed for them 20 years ago, as if my eyes were Patsy’s.
I stood honorably as person after person went up to my wife and congratulated her on raising such wonderful kids.
I stood happily, looking out at smiles and hugs, as I remembered the importance of community and mutually-supportive relationships.
I stood with humility, attempting to let go of the weight of the perceived mistakes I still carry, and trying to understand the underlying perceived need to be recognized for what I might have done right.
I stood emotionally, with feelings of deep love towards my family… and towards Patsy.
I stood in forgiveness.
I stood with compassion.
I felt love and a sense of unity with the world… and with a teacher.
After all, I know now… Patsy was, and still is, my teacher too.