A couple of months ago, my dad called me at work to tell me that one of my teachers from elementary school had been diagnosed with Huntington's disease. Of course, this may seem unusual that he would call me in the middle of the day to tell me about a teacher from when I was a child. But she wasn't just "a teacher". She was my teacher. I was in the gifted program when I was in school. I took all of the tests in the second grade and from that point on, I was pulled out of class every other week to attend the gifted program classes. Our school system was small, so we had just one teacher for all of the gifted students. So, from second grade until graduation from high school, she was my teacher. She went with me from being a precocious child until the day I walked down the asile to get my diploma. She was my friend. She was my mentor. She was my teacher.
She was the kind of teacher who just did not fit in small town Alabama. She was very much a hippie, and still is to tell the truth. From the long hair to the long flowing skirts, she epitomized "different". We listened to Van Morrison during class. We learned the scandalous details about the kings and queens of England. We had class parties at her house where we would all sit around just talking about ideas. Once I was able to drive, I probably had dinner at her house at least every other week. She taught me to drink hot tea (something at which we Southerners do not excel). She taught me how to make my thoughts into words and art. She taught me that I can do anything if I just try. She gave of herself every single day in order to expand our minds and make her students better people.
I know that the dementia that comes with the Huntington's disease is going to eventually take her memories. So, I keep trying to sit down and write her a thank you letter to thank her for everything that she did for me in all of the years that I have known her. But I just do not know how to say thank you enough. How do you thank someone who opened your mind to art and music? How do you thank someone who encouraged you every day to be yourself and to not let the way other people treat you to keep you from being yourself? How do you thank someone who molded your young mind and opened you up to a world that you never knew existed outside of small town Alabama? Honestly, I have not found the words. I have left the thank you letter unwritten thus far. I will thank her in a letter just so she can hold on to it and have it as her memory slips. But more importantly, I will thank her with my life. I will do the same thing for others as she did for me. I will encourage those around me. I will not stop being myself just because myself is a little weird. I will continue to keep my mind open to new experiences and new thoughts. I will not be the kind of person who runs away from difficulties. I will live the life that she taught me to live. I will say thank you every single day in the best way that I can. And, I will write that letter.