“To get to experience another day and have the health to dream of the opportunity for more days is a rich and indulgent luxury.”
Over three decades ago on a sunny September morning I skipped into kindergarten. The carpet was a deep red contrasted by the stark white and gray flecked tile that rimmed most of the room. We all had cubbies and while there were tables and chairs we always started and ended our day on the floor sitting in a giant circle. Luckily I attended kindergarten when there was still a great deal of play. The corner of the classroom that housed the play kitchen and a reading loft was glorious. But best of all was the thin, gray-haired, fiercely blue-eyed woman who was my teacher. Mrs. Johnston had a kind and open heart.
In her class, I learned to tie my shoes, to read and write. I also horribly failed cutting. I never could make that black dotted line disappear no matter how hard I tried. She loved teaching art and giving us time to play. She was also one of the first adults I ever saw openly weep. Our art teacher that year had a heart attack while he was driving home from work and did not survive. As she told our class that he would not be coming back she couldn’t help but shed some tears. It is important to know there are people that care that much about other people.
My sister went on to be in her class and even after we moved away our family still exchanged Christmas Cards with her each year. The exchanging of cards and occasional letters continued every year, even when I was married and had my own family.
This year, four days after Christmas a letter came in the mail. A letter I was expecting, but at the same time had often feared the past three years. At eighty-two years old, Mrs. Ara Johnston had passed away. This summer she had a brain aneurysm and left our world for better one.
I dreamt of her this summer. You know one of those dreams that seems so real that after you wake you can’t tell if it was a memory or a dream.
In the beginning of the dream I walked into a supermarket through a great wide opening and was blasted with a force of air as I crossed into the threshold of the store. I knew immediately I was in a King Super’s in Colorado. They have huge doors that slide back and stay open. As I was finishing up my shopping I noticed a woman with silver-gray hair in the check out line paying as a young man helped to bag her purchases. I knew exactly who she was without even having to see her face. It didn’t matter that I hadn’t seen her in 30 years; her kindness and belief in me left such an impression I knew I would always be able to recognize her effortlessly.
I contemplated walking up to her knowing she may not remember me. She taught for over 20 years. I remember thinking how many little faces she must have seen. But I knew I had to see her. So I walked up to her. She had that same sweet smile I remembered and she greeted me with a hearty hello.
She said she knew I was one of her students, but names always escaped her. She said she never forgot a face though and even remembered some of the outfits I had worn in her class. She talked about how she never really left teaching until she had to. She substitute taught after she retired. Always quick-witted, she made to sure to ask me if I had ever properly learned to use scissors. I assured her I had not; I was incapable of cutting a straight line. She gave me a hug and a hearty smile and said she had to be going.
Funny how I thought I would always see her again, but then of course I never did get the chance. Just in my dreams.
So many of the gifts in our life are the people who are put into it. Mrs. Johnston believed in me, as I am sure she did all her students, but I will always remember that she never gave up hope that I could learn something or master some skill. She always pushed me to excel and try more difficult tasks. My love of learning started in that classroom and has continued the rest of my life.
Maya Angelou said, “I’ve had so many rainbows in my clouds…I bring everyone with me who has ever been kind to me…I have most certainly had rainbows in my clouds. The thing to do you see, is to prepare yourself to be a rainbow in someone else’s cloud..to be a blessing to somebody.”
Ara Johnston was a rainbow in my cloud, she was a blessing.
Cherish your rainbows and prepare yourself to be a blessing to others; it truly is what matters most.