It was a short conversation. Maybe a grand total of 30 seconds, jam-packed with awkwardness and revelation at the same time (which, by the way, feels kinda weird). I was 16 or 17 years old, and Mr. Millerâ€™s AP English class had just ended for the day. Mr. Miller was notorious for being rough, and for demanding perfection. His claim to fame – Deducting 31 points on any paper for one misplaced comma (he also performed the “Snoopy Dance” for our birthdays). But he was an amazing teacher, so I sat up straight to listen intently each day, and I was always sure to watch my commas.
The dismissal bell rang, and we all stood to leave.
Mr. Miller called me aside. â€œHey, Kokoska. Gotta minute?â€
â€œOf course, Mr. Miller.â€ I had, and still have, an immense amount of respect for Mr. Miller. I would have had hours for him if heâ€™d asked.
He looked down at me and pressed his lips together the way that father figures do when they are about to teach you a lesson. â€œI got an email from your sister last night.â€ (She was a student of his a few years before.)
â€œOh. Thatâ€™s cool. I need to give her a call.â€
His lips pressed together a little tighter; he took a deep breath. â€œShe said youâ€™re going through some pretty tough times right now, and that I should take it easy on you.â€
A short but awkward pause ensued, during which my head was down and my cheeks turned bright red.
I could feel Mr. Millerâ€™s eyes on me, but I didn’t want to look up. I had seen that pity look too many times, and I wasn’t interested in seeing it from him. I finally had to lift my head and meet his eyes, and there was no pity there at all. He just said, â€œI told her I wouldnâ€™t.â€
â€œThank you, Mr. Miller.â€
He smiled, and I walked away to make my next class.
â€œI told her I wouldnâ€™t. . . .â€ Finally, someone gave a girl who was dealing with some pretty real circumstances a really real answer. I had heard my fair share clichÃ©s, but Mr. Miller told me two very important things in those 30 seconds.
1.)Â Â Â Â Â His words told me, â€œNever be a victim of your circumstancesâ€ â€“ Life can suck. It does that sometimes. But when one part of life starts sucking, the other parts donâ€™t get easier. Man up, and stay true to you.
2.)Â Â Â Â Â His eyes told me, â€œI have confidence in youâ€ â€“ A little bit of that goes a long way.
I got my first and only C that term, courtesy of Mr. Miller. But I know that I did my best for that C, and that I didnâ€™t get the lower grade because I had a lot on my plate. I got the lower grade because we were reading William Faulkner that term (I still don’t know what The Bear is about, and I’m OK with that. . . Pick your battles.)
Mr. Miller taught me each day for two years, but he never taught me more than he did in those 30 seconds.
The lesson was simple: When life gets hard. . . Work harder.
So. . . thank you, Mr. Miller, for everything (except for the Faulkner; I didn’t like that at all).
Please excuse the sappy post. It’s the holiday season. I can’t help it.