85: Lighting the Way to Tomorrow

85: Lighting the Way to Tomorrow

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Inspiration for Teachers

Lighting the Way to Tomorrow

Life is a circle. The end of one journey is the beginning of the next.

~Joseph M. Marshall III, The Journey of Crazy Horse: A Lakota History

It has been many years since I locked the door to my fifth grade classroom for the last time. My students are adults now and have gone on with their lives, as I have gone on with mine. But every now and then, I have the privilege of running into one of my former students. Sometimes I have to look closely to recognize them. They are not ten years old anymore.

One afternoon I stopped by the district office for a meeting and I was sure the young woman sitting behind the desk was one of my former students. I glanced at her nameplate and recognized the name immediately. Carol. Yes, of course.

“Do you remember me, Mrs. De Maci?” she asked.

“Denim blue is the color of my favorite jeans,” I replied, reciting a line from one of the color poems she had written in class.

“How did you remember that?” she exclaimed, quite surprised.

“Just lucky, I guess,” I responded, with a teacher-remembers-all grin.

For some reason, after all these years, I can still remember some of the poems that my students wrote. I treasure them.

I could also recall Carol sitting in the front row of the classroom, in a seat nearest the window, her pencil moving across the page in sync with the other students in class. This was always a special time for me, observing the beauty of young scholars at work and wondering where their lives would take them.

I ran into another student one morning, standing next to her in line at the pharmacy. Margaret had loved to write.

She was now a junior in college, having exchanged her navyblue-and-white school uniform for a colorful skirt and sweater. “Are you still writing?” I asked her.

“No,” she countered. “I think term papers have taken a lot of that out of me.”

“Promise me you’ll find a few minutes here and there to write a poem or short story just for fun,” I urged. Margaret had such a flair for words. A true gift.

Another time I was waiting in a doctor’s exam room and there was something familiar about the nurse: the way she moved and talked and… smiled.

“It’s me, Mrs. De Maci. Sara.”

“Sara? How are you? I see you’re doing well,” I said, smiling back.

I didn’t remember her mentioning that she wanted to be a nurse. But here she was, clearly at home in her chosen profession. I thought about Sara all the way home. I was so happy that she was happy.

At Mass one Sunday morning I was sitting in the second pew behind a broad-shouldered Marine in uniform. His presence was palpable. I felt a surge of pride wash over me.

There’s a part of the Mass where we stand and offer one another a sign of peace — usually a handshake or a hug. This beautiful young man in front of me turned around and offered me his hand.

“Do you remember me, Mrs. De Maci?” he asked.

“Tell me your name,” I whispered, holding his hand in mine.


My eyes filled with tears, my heart full of admiration and awe for this brave young man who stood before me in the uniform of our country. He had come home early from his tour of duty because he had fallen ill. I hugged him tightly, seeing him sitting in his blue-and-white school uniform in the third row right behind Jennifer.

“I’m so proud of you, Joseph,” I said, not wanting to let go of his hand. And for a moment we were both back in that fifth grade classroom where life seemed simpler, and there was almost always peace.

I have never forgotten that special day. And I have never forgotten him. He has seeded himself somewhere down deep in my soul, touching that place in my heart reserved “For Teachers Only.”

I have come to realize that once upon a time I was taking care of them — these students who sat before me every day with questioning faces. I had graham crackers in my desk drawer in case they hadn’t had time for breakfast. I made sure they put on their sweaters at recess because it was chilly outside. I walked them across the playground to the campus library, assuring them that reading was a path to freedom and a better life.

And at the end of the day, I said goodbye to them. “See you in the morning. Take care of yourself.”

And now these young men and women were taking care of me. Helping me fill out forms so I could continue on my road to retirement. Taking my blood pressure and temperature so I could remain well. Fighting for my freedom in a faraway land so I could live in a country that has given all of us so much.

I would have liked to thank Joseph, Carol, Margaret, and Sara — as well as each and every one of my students over the years. Thank you for coming into my life and teaching me how to love… and thank you for giving me hope for a better world.

You were all special.

~Lola Di Giulio De Maci

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