I have told this story before, but it is one I love to tell. It needs telling, as well.
Especially in these times.
One of the most wonderful ministers of all-time, a pastor who preached from the heart, made church interesting, and even made God accessible, had moved on from our church.
There was an emptiness. I felt it deeply. The minister who had left was a man I admired greatly. I was thrilled that he had been the man who married my wife and I. We all missed him greatly…
As happens in situations like this, the church went through a transition period as they sought a new spiritual leader. During this time they brought in guest ministers, and for a time there was an interim minister, a kindly older man, who help guide the congregation through this period of change.
I was an active member of the church, the Old Paramus Church in Ridgewood, New Jersey, and, as someone who likes to speak, and (they say) reads very well, I was often the “lay leader,” the person who helps guide the congregation and read the passages from the Bible during the Sunday service.
On the occasions when I would assist with the service, I would sit in a special room, a secret place it seemed, behind and above the pulpit. Sitting in this chamber with the minister always helped to make the whole pageantry of church even more special for me. It was as if I was given a key to a special behind the scenes view of the inner workings of church or spirituality… or even God. It was in that little room that I would have time, alone, to speak and pray, with the pastor.
It was in that room that I first met the new interim minister, a man named Reverend Springsteen (yes, just like Bruce’s name). He was a kind man, just the type of person who looks, acts, and talks as a minister should. It was a pleasure to have some time alone in conversation with him. It’s like that way with good people. It’s an honor to just to be in their presence.
During our brief talk, he asked about a Semendinger that he once knew…
“Is your mother Ruth Semendinger?” he asked.
I smiled and responded, “No, that’s my Grandma.”
The man of the cloth looked at me with sincerity and kindness and love and then responded with a smile, “Your grandmother was my children’s teacher… and when they had her, we knew they were in great hands.”
That was my Grandma. If ever there was a person who exuded pure love, it was her. Absolutely. Unquestionably. She was a wonderful person. One of the best.
“When my children had her as a teacher, we knew they were in great hands.”
This story took place somewhere in the mid-1990’s. I don’t recall the exact year. It’s only the general time period that matters anyway. My Grandmother retired from teaching in 1968 (the same year I was born). This story takes place decades after she retired.
In all that time, for those decades, and forever more, even to this day, when those people heard or saw my grandmother’s name, they thought happy thoughts and they remembered a great person kindly. They remember her kindness. They remember who she was as a person… as a teacher. She was a teacher who taught not from a book or from a curriculum, but from the heart.
Grandma’s love lasted across the years and over the decades, and into forever.
That’s what a great teacher does. A teacher influences eternity. A teacher out lives and out lasts time.
I know this because I have seen it first hand. (And this wasn’t the only time.)
This is what you great teachers do. By giving their hearts to the kids and by being generous with their love, they are etching a mark in their students.
Great teachers create memories, good feelings, a special warmness, and a fondness, that will last forever. And always. Through to eternity.
There’s a postscript to the story that I often don’t tell.
But I will today.
I will tell it because it matters and might just be the more important part of this tale.
At the time of this story, my Grandma was still alive. She wasn’t well any longer. She was in her early 90’s and failing. I remember visiting Grandma and just sitting with her as she mostly just laid in bed. She often didn’t talk. She just laid there. By this point, Grandma didn’t have much more to offer to others. Her time was running out. It’s a sad, very sad, period in one’s life.
I remember going to see her, and telling her that a Reverend Springsteen, from Old Tappan, whose children she taught, remembers her fondly.
I said, “When they were with you, Grandma, they were in good hands.”
And I remember Grandma opening her eyes, looking at me, and smiling. It was probably one of the last times I ever saw her smile.
When we give our love…it always comes back to us.
Teachers affect eternity.
That’s what great teachers do.
And that it why, especially in these times, the most critical and important thing we can do is teach from the heart. That’s what the children need.
Give your love freely. It will always come back.
It will always come back.
That love may even come through a grandchild, who brings it to you… possibly when you need it most of all.