Several years after our semester together and a few years after the marriage counseling Christmas vacation, I was at home grading papers one September night when I received an e-mail from Greta. It was a pleasant surprise. I had given my students my e-mail because this was the best and easiest way to contact me. She had remembered it.
She wanted to know if I was teaching this particular semester at Central Heights University. I was not. But I told her I would drive to campus to meet her for coffee. She seemed troubled—she admitted as much—and needed someone to talk to. She trusted me and felt she could confide in me.
As honored as I was, I was also worried. What could be so upsetting that she had no one to confide in? Was it her husband? Her daughters? Her health? Her family back in Europe?
No, they were all fine. It was something else, something that happened in class. We agreed to meet early the following week. She had an hour break between classes and we agreed to meet in the cafeteria.
I was intrigued about this, more from a gossipy perspective and maybe because it would boost my morale (I’m a better teacher than the guy you have now—nyah nyah nyah). I didn’t know what courses she was even taking or what she wanted. But I liked Greta--she was a nice lady and it would be nice to meet and chat for a little bit.
By now it had been about six months since I read The Secret and since Sophia left for Europe. It was odd that I was finding bits and pieces of the book to be so very true. Some of it was pure malarkey, I felt, but some of the ideas were just dead on. I couldn’t escape that. One trick that was mentioned was to plan on finding a good parking space wherever you went. And more often than not—I was finding good parking spaces. Even on this day as I was meeting Greta and had to park in the rock-covered parking lot from that infamous rainy day in my very tight blue Hush Puppies, I found a good spot.
Greta was in more advanced classes leading toward her degree and licensure to be an elementary school teacher. Our meeting was shortly after the anniversary of the Sept. 11 terror attacks, and on the day of the anniversary, her class watched a video about how a teacher should or could deal with students and families from different ethnic or religious backgrounds than a typical white, Protestant American family. They made a documentary about my life? When there was a segment of the film depicting a family that was Middle Eastern, some of her classmates cracked jokes that made Greta uncomfortable. And what was more, she said, the professor not only didn’t stop them but also agreed with what was said and made a few comments of his own. That bothered her. It bothered her a lot. That’s why she contacted me.
“Do I report him?” she asked.
“You could and probably should,” I said. One thing I had learned is that there were always at least three sides to every story: her version, his version, and the truth. Everyone will interpret a situation in a different way, even when they experience the same situation. I didn’t think she was lying or exaggerating about what happened, but I understood where her classmates and her professor were coming from with the comments. Then I realized I was telling a student and one from another country, no less, that, basically, Americans can be real assholes.
As we chatted, I began to realize she was feeling and saying and thinking of very similar things, almost the same as I. And I thought she might benefit from reading The Secret. I hadn’t mentioned this book to many people, because it’s a very black-and-white proposition. They either love it or hate it, even without reading it. But I felt she understood.
I began to explain my journey with it. It seemed like we were on very parallel paths, the only difference being I had read this book and she hadn’t. She was curious, but swamped with homework, reading, raising her children, etc.
She was extremely skeptical, but she trusted me. To her, my life was in order and she was desperate for some stability in her life. I apparently manifested it for her. I told her the story about focusing on the parking spot. She had errands to run after her class and before her children got home from school and she was frazzled just thinking about it.
“Just focus on getting the perfect parking space. Focus on finding everything you need quickly. See what happens. What’s the worst thing that will happen? You have to walk farther in the parking lot?”
She looked at me, her big blue eyes more like slits under her droopy lids. Poor thing--she was so exhausted.
“So, just wish for a good parking spot and it will appear? That’s all I have to do?” Her voice sounds more harsh than normal. She was speaking a little louder than she usually did, almost as if she were trying to convince herself she was not crazy. “That’s the craziest thing I’ve ever heard.”
I nodded. “Yeah, but what does it hurt?”
She couldn’t argue with that. What—you make a wish and it comes true? Don’t we all hope for that to happen? Isn’t that the mantra from Star Wars—“Use the force, Luke.” Same thing. Kind of. Sort of.
What have you got to lose??
It was time for her to go to her class and I headed home. It felt good to talk to Greta. I didn’t realize how much I enjoyed her company. It’s like we were kindred spirits. She apparently thought so as well, because she began e-mailing me from time to time. The first time was later that evening, to tell me about her successful shopping trip. She did practice The Secret, and did wish for parking spaces. Not every single time, but three times that day, she did get a good spot.
In what seemed like a few weeks later, Greta asked me to meet her for breakfast. It was now May. Her semester was over but her children were in school for a few more weeks, so she could have some time for herself. We met at a restaurant about midway between our homes. Greta was already seated when I arrived. As soon as I sat in the booth, she shoved a wrapped package toward me. It looked like a book.
“What’s this?” I asked, surprised but secretly thrilled. I love getting presents!
“It’s for you. After our conversation, I thought you would like this.” She smiled. Her eyes were shining, no more droopy lids.
My fingers lightly rested on the package. I was afraid to move. “What conversation?”
The smile left her face and she looked as puzzled as I felt. “The one in September.”
September? It’s May—you mean four months from now? This fall?
Oh—last September? We had a conversation?
“Don’t you remember?”
Obviously not. Am I getting Alzheimer’s? Why don’t I remember this?
She couldn’t believe I couldn’t remember. “You came to campus and we talked?”
I . Came. To. Campus … Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah. The 9/11 professor thingy. OK—I remember now. So, the gift ….
“So, what happened with the professor?” I asked. Was this a book he authored?
Now she looked blank. “What professor?”
Now I’m confused again. I raised my hand, as if to make a point, but I had no idea what that point would be. “Tell you what—you tell me your story and then I’ll see if it matches mine.”
After her day of shopping, employing the tricks of The Secret for parking spots, while not a perfect day, her errands did go better than she planned. She began to think there was something to this “stuff”, so she bought the book and read it.
Keep in mind she’s taking 15 college credits and raising four kids and reading books for pleasure. I have a cat and can barely read a newspaper in one day.
She felt such a connection to this book that she then researched all of the people quoted in the book (at least the living ones. Jesus and Buddha she already knew about). She liked what she saw and bought their books and read all of those. I noticed she had a large canvas shopping bag on the bench next to her, just under the height of the table. She was pulling books out one by one.
“Have you read this one?”
She was pulling books so quickly I could barely read the title. But the fact that I don’t read many books, I could tell from the cover. “No.”
“How about this?”
I titled my head, squinting my eyes to try to read the title or author. “No.”
“Anything by Tony Robbins?” She pulled a handful out of her bag.
“No. He’s in The Secret?”
“No, but he also does motivational talks and I read some of them online, so I bought his books as well. As I was looking for these other people I saw his stuff as well.”
I nodded. I think I’ve created a Frankenstein’s monster.
I’m not sure what impressed me more—that she bought so many books, that she could afford to buy so many books, or that she read so many books on top of all of her classes and family obligations.
Her gift to me was a copy of a book, written by one of the contributors to The Secret, that she also had (with tabs and highlights—she brought that to breakfast as well) which she thought I would like. And she proceeded to spend the next 45 minutes, through our meal, showing me pages she had highlighted which she found important and applicable to her.
Indeed it is true—from your pupils you’ll be taught. And as much as I didn’t want to agree with her, I did like the book and found the same things true. This was hard for me—the tables were turned and I wasn’t the one with the answers. She did a damn fine job. I’m proud to have had a part in creating such a fine future teacher.