Advice for the Lovelorn ... Teacher

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Chapter 19

I received an e-mail from Greta one morning. She subscribed to “The Secret: Daily Teachings” and every so often she would forward them to me. This one in particular stopped me in my tracks:

“You are a magnet. When you become a magnet of wealth, you attract wealth. When you become a magnet of health, you attract health. When you become a magnet of love, you attract love. When you become a magnet of joy, you attract joy. You must become the magnet of whatever it is you want, to bring it to you. Magnet comes first--manifestation is second. Manifestation is the effect of the magnet of you.”

I sat at my computer for several minutes, thinking about this. What do I attract?

I know I’m happier than I’ve ever been. I have friends! I belong! I have a church! And my church family accepts me for me. They know the power of forgiveness—God has provided that for us through Jesus. We all screw up, but we’re forgiven. It can’t get much better than that, can it?

But it does. What else have I attracted this past decade?

Frank.

Somehow, his wife Shirley and I have become friends, which is surprising because Frank doesn’t like his personal life and professional life to mix (hmmmm, sounds a lot like me, doesn’t it?). Shirley worships me because I “stand up” to Frank. I really don’t, but I don’t take him seriously. He’s a man. They’re fascinating creatures, but I just am not sure I want to own one. So, when one of those creatures decides to “tell me” what to do, I just look at them. I’ll question them. Shirley never has, because that isn’t how she was raised. There’s nothing wrong with it, but it’s also not how I was raised. And to be questioned by a woman? That isn’t how Frank was raised. You know—Me Man. Me In Charge. Yeah? Well, Me Not Impressed. But Shirley is—with me.

And there’s Sophia—how could I have ever gotten this far without her? She is one of those people you can see daily and never become irritated with and she’s also one of those people you can see once every six months and it’s like you’ve never been apart. She is always reading, always ready and wanting to learn more. I just admire her. I could listen to her read the phone book and become so enlightened.

And I have attracted the attractive Anita. Beautiful, smart, exotic Anita. She’s a Certified Public Accountant who is now working for a Fortune 100 company. She loves living near Seattle. She gets to travel the world. She and Fritz have since divorced, but she has found someone new. She told me about her new love as soon as she met him—she wanted my advice! Isn’t that sweet? He’s a very nice man. They both call regularly—I am part of their family. They value me. And she and Fritz are both going to take their citizenship test this year—she is very excited to become an American.

And Fanta. Beautiful, respectful, pious Fanta. So disarmingly funny, moreso because she isn’t trying to be. She’s an American in a Pakistani body, only she doesn’t realize it. She wants me to explain to her the American Way, but she has a better grasp of it than I do. I feel like a fool—I’m not sure what I’m supposed to be explaining to her because she already understands it. And to tell the truth, I didn’t realize “The American Way” was even a concept—one of those things I just took for granted because, being an American, it was always just there. Her husband is soon arriving to begin residency in the United States and to begin the path to citizenship. He is a wonderful young man and they will make wonderful parents one day. I look forward to helping him study for his citizenship test. Any excuse for me to watch 1776, n’est ce pas?

And dear Greta. My adorable little Earth Mother-daughter. We are probably the closest of all because she still lives in the Region and because her daughters insist she visit me regularly. Her eldest said, “You can’t believe the change in her demeanor when she comes back from having coffee with you. She calms down so much—she’s almost human again.”

Funny, I feel the same way after meeting Greta for coffee. It’s hard to believe her children are grown and the youngest two are in high school now.

But while I reflect on the people and experiences I’ve attracted, I realize that all of these people are more acquaintances as opposed to friends. I wonder what the difference is. To me, a friend is someone you spend a lot of time with—you can just go to their house and sit and chat. You see it on all the old television sitcoms—people come over and have coffee and talk and talk and talk. I don’t do that. I don’t go to their houses and they don’t come to mine. So, are we really friends or just mere acquaintances? An acquaintance, to me, is someone you know, but not very well.

Holy crap—with everything I know about these people, I’d say we are more than mere acquaintances. But it also doesn’t explain how or why I became their confidant, their confessor.

Greta finally gave me a clue one day.

“It’s because you represent ‘home’. We are ‘home’, here, in America. You provide stability for us. While we miss our families terribly, we’re all living different lives now. We can’t go back to what we were; you let us believe that it’s OK.”

“How?” I’m not sure if I spoke that aloud or just thought it. It didn’t make sense to me. They were all living lives. Successful lives. Living the American dream. Here I am, the poor schmuck, who is American born and bred, not living the American dream, not feeling at home, not feeling OK. No husband, no fancy car, no fancy vacations, struggling with just getting through life every single day. Which, I guess, is part of living the American dream in some sick, twisted way.

But in their eyes, I am successful. I am the embodiment of the American Dream. They know they need to work three times as hard to get to the point where I am. I am so terribly humbled by this thought.

It’s an indescribable thing. By teaching them composition and critical thinking, I’ve provided them the tools for analysis and self-reflection. They’ve learned to think ahead and guess the consequences. Are they also learning to make do with what they have? Are they aware of the struggles they will have to endure, even with the language “barrier” notwithstanding? Have the hard knocks I’ve experienced been a benefit to them? It’s hard to say.

I was entering a crossroads of my life—my college teaching days were over. The Great Recession of 2008 had affected so many jobs, including mine. While programs were being added and dropped and college teaching was requiring a Ph.D., which I didn’t have, I decided to do what I was trained to do: teach high school. As this information went out through both of the university’s Alumni newsletters explaining the loss of several professors, my three former students called me, concerned. They wanted to meet for lunch so we could catch up. Anita was back in the Chicago area for a conference and scheduling time with all of them was proving no less complicated than planning the D-Day assault on Omaha Beach. I decided instead of meeting each of them individually, let’s all meet and have lunch together.

While they had never met, they bonded quickly. They had me in common and really, I almost felt like I was intruding on “their” lunch. The conversation flowed easily, with lots of laughter and camaraderie. It was amazing to me at the time, and still is to this day, how easily they communicated with each other. A kindergarten teacher, a Certified Public Accountant, and a nurse practioner. All from different continents. All from different backgrounds. All sitting here in a restaurant in the middle of the Untied States. What a great country!

But more amazing to me is how these three women are such a huge part of my life. Me. The social retard. The woman who still doesn’t know what she wants to be when she grows up, even though I am nearing 50. How did we come together? How did I attract these wonderful people?

Obviously, I didn’t “attract” them. They were in my classes. No brainer there—they just happened to take the classes I just happened to be teaching. But we all hit it off almost immediately as soon as we met and became great friends after our respective semesters together were completed. How?

I admit, I am fascinated by people from other countries. Not having traveled much, even within the United States, I just want to latch onto people who have lived in places I can just barely imagine existing. These three ladies have seen the things I only dream about and can only see on film. But I got to hear the stories, from them, in their lilted and guttural accents, especially the ones about how they all ended up here, in the U.S., in Indiana. Sometimes it was chance; for Anita it was her husband’s job that transferred the family. For Fanta, she had relatives already here. The same for Greta. For me, this was where my family settled four generations ago. No excitement there. Nobody bothered to stray too far from the herd.

I envied these students of mine. Little did I know—they envied me. Even thought I never knew my grandparents, or great-grandparents, I could visit their graves. I could point to homes they used to live in. I owned books that they had once owned. I had Christmas decorations on my tree they had put on their own tree. Neither Greta, Anita, or Fanta could do that. (And, OK—admittedly, only Greta envied that part about the Christmas decorations, as her parents still lived in Europe, but much of her grandparents items were lost during World War II. Anita wasn’t big on decorations because it cluttered the house. Fanta wasn’t a Christian, so Christmas was more a weird thing you people did.)

I still couldn’t see what they saw in me. What did I have to offer them? Nothing.

They blinked at my question. To them, the answer was very obvious.

“You give us a sense of home, of belonging,” Greta said.

“Yah,” Fanta added, “you make us feel as if we belong to this country.”

Now I blinked. “But you do,” I said.

Anita furrowed her brow and nodded. “Yah, but you don’t zee uz az immigrants. You respect our culture and ask questions. You let us share with you. Other people, they’re not interested.”

Fanta nodded, her gold sequined bright yellow hajib moving back and forth on her head. She readjusted it. Pin the damn thing down already! “Yah, especially for my country, they think we’re all terrorists. You ask about our families and our traditions.”

I was stunned. I never thought of that. Seriously, am I’m the only one curious about other places? Then I thought of Sophia—the herd mentality. I guess it’s not so far-fetched that others would not be interested in other cultures.

“You’re like a mother to us,” Greta said. The other two nodded vigorously in assent.

Mother? That hurt. Couldn’t I be a big sister? Even an aunt?

So, there I had it. My dull, boring, Midwestern lifestyle represented home and hearth to these three fascinating women. Another man’s trash is another man’s treasure, as they say. But more importantly, I realized that I do matter. I, Jane Smith, do make a difference. It may not be a continual feeling, but I have bettered the lives of these three women and they have bettered mine. We’re that much richer for having met each other. And I wouldn’t change it for the world. For all of my searching, trying to find a “family”, I learned that family is what you choose. With all my searching, I didn’t realize I had found it. I created a family of my own with Anita, Greta, and Fanta.

So, my advising days were over. My adventures with romance were over. I could be sad it was over or happy that it happened at all. I chose happy, whatever that means.

And it was on a bright summer day about 10 a.m. when my phone rang. It was Greta.

She was frustrated—her children were home from school for the summer and Greta was at her wits’ end. Her 12-year-old daughter has discovered boys. On top of that, puberty was hitting with full force and the middle schooler was becoming disrespectful. Not just disrespectful by backtalking, but by defying her parents orders to observe a curfew, neighborhood boundaries, whatever the order was, Lily was not obeying it. What was she to do with her?

Now, if I thought I was unprepared to act as a marriage counselor due to lack of experience, I am even moreso unprepared to act as a parent counselor. I don’t like kids (that’s probably why I teach … at the collegiate level), and other than writing a referral for them when they have violated campus rules, I don’t know what to do with them. And this is probably why I don’t have any kids of my own. Well, that and lack of a husband. Or sperm donor.

As these thoughts are running through my head, I hear a familiar voice speaking. It’s my voice! Giving advice on raising children.

If I didn’t know what to do about marriages, I most certainly don’t know what to do about raising children.

But that’s never stopped me before, now has it?

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