Monday, May 7, 2012

The Assignment

Right now I am sitting at my desk at school. The students are bent over white sheets of paper. Their heads are down and most of their pencils are moving. I have a few who are in the hallway sitting at desks to do this assignment; they wanted quiet and solitude. These students are attempting to answer a question we have all been asking since the beginning.

I wonder if Adam knew how to answer this question? If we were able to pose this question to him in the garden while he was naming the animals would the answer have come to him readily? When God brought his Helpmeet and presented her to him, would Adam have been able to better answer this question then? When he closed his teeth down on the flesh of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil did his definition start to become blurred? Or did it remain and that is part of why he and Eve attempted to use fig leaves as coverings?

On the white board I have a question written:

What does it mean to be made in the Image of God?

I ask this question at the end of my Humanities’ classes. I continually ask myself this question. When God was recording the Genesis of all things he spoke and said, “Let us make man in our image.”

Many scholars, skeptics and sages have attempted to define and illustrate this one phrase of Scripture. I have read countless articles, commentaries and studies on this concept, but the students’ answers speak the most to me. Rarely have they been influenced by any type of systematic theology. Sometimes I detect the influence of doctrinal tradition. But most often their answers are raw and real. The students’ answers, even if given only half-heartedly, challenge me. Their answers evoke a response in me, and that response leads to my own inner movement and reevaluation.

So, tonight I will sit down to read the students’ papers. Page after page I will hear what they think. What I discover almost every time I give this assignment is that so often we sell these students short. We tend to not expect deep thought or logical thinking. We tend to dismiss them because they are teenagers. How sad. How incredibly sad.

I look around my classroom and it hits me with immediate and almost tangible force that I could have another C.S. Lewis in my classroom. He could be coming into my room on a daily basis and I am being given the privilege of getting to speak into his life. I could have another Amy Carmichael or Madeleine L’Engle sitting at my tables. Perhaps I have an Ann Voskamp or a Fanny Crosby. Perhaps there is another Billy Graham hidden among the students who come in Room 203 every day.

And then I come back to my original definition of the Image of God. As these students filter in and out of my classroom all day long I see the Image of God.

In each face. In their eyes.

Every day. All day long.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Lady Astor

When I started working at one of my present jobs Hazel was the oldest and one of the most interesting people in my life. At the time she was almost ninety years old and still working part-time. She was still driving her little champagne-colored Ford and still lived alone in her immaculate little mauve apartment.

She was a tiny thing, delicate and elegant. She was proper and mannered—a woman from a long-gone era. We, her co-workers, sometimes called her Lady Astor because of this formal gentility.

We worked opposite shifts; she worked in the morning and I worked in the evening, but occasionally our shifts would overlap and I would get to work with her. During the early years I watched her learn to navigate three new computer systems. Let me emphasize that she learned three new systems between her late eighties and early nineties. Isn’t that a remarkable feat?

Her stubborn and independent nature was gloved in her pristine gentility. But there were times when her fierce independence was quite evident. And I had to laugh. I could only hope that someday I would have her steel spine.

She lived through The Great Depression. She watched her father be generous to those in need and it affected her. She married a man named Smitty and lost him to cancer. She met another and before they married she lost him to a heart attack. She had no children, but I never detected any bitterness.

In her younger days she not only rode on a plane with the heavy metal rock band, Grateful Dead, but she conversed with them. One year for Halloween she donned a mini skirt and boots (remember how old she was). And that is just who Hazel was. She was able to step across many generational lines and boundaries.

She broke her hip, recovered and came back to work. She fractured her pelvis; it healed and she returned to work. And every time she did we marveled at her determination and tenacity. She was the truest of extroverts and thrived in the presence of people. She gained strength from her interactions and relationships.

One time I went to work and she was behind the counter. A very handsome man came in and was talking with her. I turned only to see the man lean all the way across the counter and kiss Hazel. I openly stared because I was so dumbfounded. She turned to me and caught me in my rude behavior. She laughed and said, “Tamera, you’re just jealous, aren’t you?” And I must admit that I was in so many ways. But I wasn’t jealous of the kiss. No, I was amazed that she was ninety years old and still so full of spunk and life and humor. She was snappy and told it like it was. Hazel made people laugh. And I admired her. In so many ways she inspired me. She was alive. Really alive and she loved living. This is a lost art.

Recently Hazel passed. And I am not sure I completely understand that phrase when speaking of death, but I know it is the way Hazel would refer to this event at the end of our lives. I was quietly stunned when I was called. I had been expecting this news, but it didn’t soften the reality.

Someone stopped me at church this past week and said, “Aren’t you happy for Hazel?”  For a split second I couldn’t put happy and Hazel’s death in the same thought. Suddenly I realized that is exactly what all of us should be—happy for Hazel.

She lived a long, full and ordinarily extraordinary life. This little feisty woman finished her life as she did everything.

With dignity and grace.

I will miss her.

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