DECEMBER 3, 2010


During In my walk through the park the other day, I rounded a corner and was struck by what I mistook for a change in the landscape. When I looked again, I discovered it was an illusion. I was staring at a reflection of the sky in a pool of muddy water. I walked on but my thoughts stayed with the illusion. Some people are like muddy pools — their dark interiors mirror possibilities beyond their grim existence. Having gotten that far, I thought of Mrs. Brown.

Mrs. Brown was my geography teacher in junior high school. She disliked me the moment I entered her class room. I sensed her animosity and worked to overcome it but nothing I did altered her opinion. She leapt upon any occasion to make me feel like a failure. On one test, I recall, she marked my paper a 98% instead of the 100% it deserved because she said my “U” in Utah looked like a “V”. It was a ridiculous excuse to mark me down and to this day, I never write a word that begins with a capitol U without thinking of her.

I escaped Mrs. Brown when I graduated to high school. My new advisor was Mrs. Eckland. She was a small woman with auburn hair that flowed to her waist and she resembled one of the period’s reining movie queens, Maria Montez. I adored her and forgot about Mrs. Brown until she transferred to my high school in my senior year. Her arrival didn’t intimidate me as it might have done because Mrs. Eckland was my friend. I had her to turn to.

A few months before my graduation, Mrs. Eckland committed suicide. Recently divorced, she slashed her wrist and died alone. To this day, I cannot think of her without attendant pain.

I don’t know how I got through the blur of the remaining year. I recall sitting numb at the final assembly as the school prizes were being awarded, none of them to me. Mrs. Brown had replaced Mrs. Eckland as head of the awards committee.

I shall always honor and love Mrs. Eckland, a woman too gentle for this world and so she chose to leave it. But I must acknowledge my debt to Mrs. Brown too. She taught me about prejudice, injustice and blind hatred. Her hostility made me strong. I learned how to see the sky in muddy water.