I don't think I'll ever forget my last night in Costa Rica. I lived there for a month taking Spanish classes and living with a tico family. My final night, a big group of us went out to dinner. My host parents, my host aunt and family, one of my classmates, and myself. We went to a restaurant that serves all of the food on one plate and you kind of grab the food and eat it with your fingers. Yeah, not a germ-o-phobe's favorite restaurant. Top if off with the fact that I felt like crap and it was not a pleasant night. (I blame the chloroquine...next time I might take my chances with malaria). I tried to eat but really had no appetite. To distract myself from the nausea on the ride back, I started making a mental list of all of the memories/ stories/ things I'd learned that I wanted to share with Sra. Wright, my high school Spanish teacher. Learning a language is one of those things you remember learning every detail, at least for me. There were so many things I wanted to talk to her about, so I decided I was going to make a list on the plane ride back.
When made it home safely (that's actually a big surprise), and I stood in the family room contemplating checking my email one last night or waiting until I got back to the States. I decided to go for it. It'd be quick and then I'd go to bed and pray I was feeling better in the morning. Well, it wasn't as quick as I had wanted it to be. In fact, I learned that on the plane I'd be writing a different letter to Sra. Wright. One she would never receive. She'd passed away two days earlier.
The plane ride back was a roller coaster. Sitting behind me on the plane was not just a student from my high school but someone that graduated with me... took Spanish with me. I asked him if he'd heard and he said, "Yeah, it's a bummer." A woman dies and you say a bummer? That's worse than when I told a professor I was in a car accident on a way to her event and she said bummer.
I regretted not visiting Sra. Wright all of those times I'd visited my Alma Mater. She'd asked about me, but I never made it down to see her. I regretted not going in the one week I was home before leaving for Costa Rica. (Again, I blame the chloroquine... nine weeks of nasty pink pills meant nine weeks of feeling nasty). It helped me to know she hadn't been at school that day, but it didn't help much. I regretted not emailing her to tell her I was still using my Spanish and going to Costa Rica to learn more. I regretted not thanking her for taking the time to teach me. I regretted not being able to look her in the eye the last time we spoke. Her jaundice grossed me out. I'd known she was sick, but I never knew she was that sick. The word "cancer" was never shared, at least not with me.
I'll be honest, she was never my favorite teacher. I was disappointed when I saw her name on my schedule for the fourth consecutive year. In fact, there were many days I'd "Go to my locker" and get distracted by friends who had a free period; at least once a week I'd hear, "Katie, go back to Spanish." However, even the teachers we don't always appreciate leave lasting impacts on our lives, especially when you see them every day for four years.
Earlier this week, my sister Christina asked me to explain the difference between "por" and "para." I never get those two right, but I explained it to her the same way Sra. Wright explained it to me countless times. In fact, one day in class the example we were doing was a post card written to a teacher years after Spanish class thanking the teacher for teaching the difference between por and para. Sra Wright kind of laughed, "Please don't ever send me a post card thanking me for teaching you the difference between por and para. Por and para can't be taught... they must just be learned." That didn't stop her from trying.
The same idea didn't stop her from trying to teach us the difference between "ser" and "estar" either. Remembering this brought tears to my eyes. She said, "Estar is used with changing things. The soup is hot- estar. Today I'm sad- estar. The one I don't really understand is death. To me, death isn't a temporary thing but the Spanish use estar."
Death isn't a temporary thing. Life is the temporary thing. How do we spend it? Running a million miles an hour too busy to notice the little moments or investing in children and teaching them something they have the capabilities to use for the rest of their life? Being too stuck up to laugh at yourself or stopping class to remark about the "delightful aroma" of fart in the room before leaving and locking your students in it? Do you put up with their "Senora, how do you say (insert some super random word here like "lipgloss" or "headphones" or "@")" or do you cut off their fun?
Thank you, Sra. Wright, for taking the time to teach us the difference between "por" and "para" but, more importantly, thank you for taking the time to invest in us. To show us we can do it even when we don't think it's possible. In the words of the Celine Dion song sung at Sra. Wright's funeral, "You gave me wings and I could fly/ you touched my hand I could touch the sky/ I lost my faith you gave it back to me/ you said no star was out of reach... you saw the best there was in me..."