Saturday, October 11, 2008

Bent, But Not Broken

This inspiring story comes from my dear, dear friend, Molly, who is a high school math teacher in a different district. I could write an entire post about Molly; about how she teaches the opposite end of the spectrum from me (physics, calculus, etc.) and about what an amazing teacher and human being she is. However, this email that she sent this week (though not about Molly herself) tells you all you need to know about her...

I'd like to share a story with you, just because I know you'll appreciate it. Ten years ago, I had foreign exchange student from Germany. Anke was her name. She came here as a 16 year-old, not confident in her English, but very confident in herself. I think any 16 year-old who spends a year in another country is brave as hell, but especially one with severe cerebral palsy.

Anke had a very difficult time walking, and usually used braces. Her speech was impaired, she drooled, and her eyes drooped. I fell completely in love with her and thought she was the most remarkable person I had ever met. It's hard to describe in an email why I loved her so much; there are many reasons, many stories, but here is one...

Germany is not a country that mainstreams its handicapped students, but Anke's dad fought very hard to get her into an academically prestigious school. She tells a story of her walking (stumbling) into class one day to see the words, "Death to Anke" on the board. When my students asked her how she handled it, she said, "I just stood taller."

This would mean even more to you if you saw her, because she cannot stand up straight.

At the end of the school year, I was giving a final exam when I heard Anke shuffling down the hall with those braces. (Students were not allowed in the halls during that time, but she had sneaked in to return her book to me.) We had a very tearful goodbye; she was so choked up that she couldn't speak. She finally managed to say, "I love you."

I watched her leave, slowly making her way down that long, deserted hallway... the silhouette of her crumpled body; head bent over to the side, struggling just to walk. I'll never forget it. I remember thinking that that image, with the word "Courage" underneath it, would be so profound.

Anyway, my reason for this story...on Monday, I got a call to go down to the office; I had a visitor. And there she was. We hugged, held hands, and cried. The first thing she said was, "I never forgot you."

So, we ate dinner together last night. Anke is a college graduate now, with a degree in Business Administration. She works for the Human Resources department of a big company in Frieberg. She is looking for another position now, because she would like to live in another country, to experience the world. She turned out to be even more remarkable than I ever thought possible.

Good stuff, huh? Makes me feel guilty for collecting a paycheck; Anke and many others give me so much. It sometimes seems unnatural to get paid when I receive these beautiful gifts in life. In a way, I feel like I should be paying for the privilege.

Molly would certainly not take an ounce of credit for Anke's success, but you and I know that having a teacher like her would make any of us walk taller.

Have you thanked a former teacher of yours lately?


  1. That is powerful, what an awesome experience.

  2. I can only imagine what it must have been like to see the grown woman walk through the door - from a "world away" - simply to say thank you. If the woman were able-bodied, I would be impressed with her character. Knowing she is disabled only magnifies the quality of her soul.

    Awesome post - a wonderful beginning to Saturday Sampling!

  3. It sounds like they were an inspiration to each other, in differenat ways. Anke is an example to anyone that you control your situation and not the other way around. The world should have more Molly's teaching it's students. Wonderful story.

  4. That's a powerful and very touching piece. Anke has proved that disability is no bar to being an achiever. Fair dues to her for going into mainstream education.

  5. What a wonderful friend you have and what an incredible young woman Anke is! Beautifully written letter too.

  6. Your friend, Molly, is a wonderful writer, too. We'd all be lucky to know her and Anke.

  7. what a beautiful story - thanks for bringing it to my attention!


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