73. Forgiving Notes

73. Forgiving Notes

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Power of Forgiveness

Forgiving Notes

A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.

~Henry Adams

I ran to the bulletin board and scanned the list. I blinked and read it again. Then, I turned away and bit my lip to stem the tears. Mine wasn’t among the eight names.

As a shy, sullen sixth grader, I had found the courage to shakily audition for a small singing group our music teacher formed. She envisioned an octet—eight sweet voices lifted in perfect harmony. I envisioned myself singing and swaying in unison with the other seven girls.

I desperately wanted to be one of the group. The octet was invited to the local television station to broadcast their performance. I expected the members would become local celebrities.

I loved music class. Three times a week, our sixth grade class shuffled from our daily schoolroom down the hall to the music room. That room was magical, a place where the daily monotony of math and spelling disappeared for an hour, replaced by the joyful sounds of music.

Alas, my name’s absence from the posted list was proof that I was not the pure soprano Mrs. Bleeker sought to balance the group’s harmony. I’d flunked the audition.

I raced home after school and took refuge in the limbs of our front yard catalpa tree. Hidden in the dense leaves above the rest of the world, I sobbed out my disappointment and anger. By the time I climbed down from the tree, I’d decided I hated both Mrs. Bleeker and music.

If Mrs. Bleeker noticed my passive-aggressive flouncing and pouting, she hid it well. Despite my minimal vocal talent, she was determined that I would continue to love music. I was determined I would not. Our wills were constantly at war. I loathed Mrs. Bleeker when she pushed me to enter an essay contest, “What Music Means to Me.” Feeling tormented and forced to pick up a pen, I reluctantly poured my musical angst into the composition and forgot about it until months later.

I was shocked when I won the statewide contest. The $50 savings bond was the first time I was paid for writing. Mrs. Bleeker called the local newspaper and the editor sent a photographer to the school. There I was in the next day’s newspaper in a grainy black-and-white image on page 3. I was a local celebrity.

Then, the music teacher continued to torture me, insisting I read my winning essay at a PTA meeting. The audience’s applause gave me my first taste of the power of the pen.

I was off to a new school the next year, so I didn’t think much about Mrs. Bleeker after that. Over the next few decades I grew up and was busy working and raising a family, but I wrote as a hobby. Occasionally, I submitted stories to editors, keeping my fingers crossed that they would publish one. After many rejection slips (none of which caused me to climb into a catalpa tree), I finally sold a piece.

Then I ran into Mrs. Bleeker while I was visiting my hometown. From among hundreds of students she had taught over the years, she remembered me. By then, I was well aware that singing was not my forte. In the middle of a Kmart shopping aisle, in the clutch of her sincere ebullience and warm hug, I surrendered my sixth-grade animosity toward her. We exchanged contact information.

I slipped a copy of my newly published story into Mrs. Bleeker’s Christmas card that year and thanked her. Though I never learned to appreciate the difference between a treble and a bass clef, I did learn to appreciate Mrs. Bleeker. I often think about her artful rehabilitation of my wounded soul so many years ago. She refused to let me wallow in self-pity and instead forced me to demonstrate a talent I didn’t even know I had. I was too angry and immature to appreciate it until much later.

~Hope Sunderland

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