As the old saying goes, you never know when or where inspiration will strike. Earlier this week, it struck me at… PetSmart.
Not inspiration for a book idea. Or inspiration to adopt another cat (although I pretty much feel the urge whenever I see a homeless kitty). It was more like inspiration, along with affirmation, to keep doing what I’m doing.
Vague? It’s because what I took away was a generalized feeling; it wasn’t about doing any one particular thing. Another reason for the vagueness? Well, I hope to keep you reading!
So. I was in the check-out line at PetSmart chatting with the woman in front of me. For the sake of this post, I’ll call her Susan. Susan mentioned having a severely autistic son and we were discussing her frustration with some of his current and prior services. At some point, I mentioned being a teacher.
She said that the very best years of her son’s education were in elementary school. Susan asked where I taught and when I told her, she lit up. Big. Time.
Guess which school he had attended? You got it! Her son (and daughter) went to the same public elementary school where I now teach.
Susan gushed with warm, funny stories about her son’s experiences at the school. Her stories reflected his great sense of comfort and belonging with his peers, the faculty, and the administration.
Although I just joined the faculty this year and had nothing to do with her son’s experiences, the three adults that Susan mentioned still work at my school; and it made me even prouder to be their colleague.
More than anything, I felt such joy for Susan’s son. It was clear from what she relayed that his positive elementary school experiences still bolster him (and her!). That’s what I want for all kids — for school to be a source of strength.
If that wasn’t enough for me to get the warm fuzzies, Susan told me about her now college-aged daughter. In an essay for a course, her daughter, who is white, discussed how the high degree of diversity at her former elementary school has benefitted her as a person.
This woman’s takeaway from elementary school means the world to me. I believe deeply that interacting with people who are different from us is one of the most valuable things about school; and is one of the most promising ways for us to work toward understanding and peace in our world.
And here’s my general takeaway from my chat with Susan, something I’ve long believed as a teacher, writer, mom, and person: If we go with our gut and trust our process, which can sometimes be difficult to implement, good things come of it – and sometimes we don’t know what those things are until far down the road. Often we never find out (and that’s okay).
I told you — vague! But this “feeling” or way of living has helped guide me. And it was lovely to see it play out, albeit through other people.
I let my three colleagues know about my encounter with Susan. It felt like a rare and deep honor – confirming for them that the seeds they had planted years ago had blossomed in Susan’s children. My colleagues were delighted to hear it.
This is why most teachers teach (and why most children’s writers write). Despite how challenging our work may be at times, we love kids and want to make some kind of positive difference in their lives — today and tomorrow.
Little did I know when I raced into PetSmart to pick up cat food that I’d leave with that happy message to deliver to my colleagues. And with all that inspiration and affirmation for me to keep plugging along.
Hey, next time you head into a store, keep your eyes and ears open. You never know what else you may pick up along with the items on your shopping list!
Until we meet again,