Love Lessons

December 15, 2009

Of all the things I've lost, I miss my job the most.

Strange thing to say, I know. But I have never experienced such a great sense of fulfillment as I have when working. I love to expanding minds of all types.

A little while ago, I started thinking about my short stint a couple of years ago as a middle and high school English teacher at a private Christian school in Tennessee. It was my first real classroom teaching experience, and right off the bat I was put in charge of grades 6 through 12, holding one class per grade a day. The prep work required for that much variety was a living nightmare, and within two weeks of starting, I was struggling desperately to keep up.

What I managed to teach those children about English, I have no idea. The 12th graders stonewalled me, the 9th graders fought me on every assignment, and the 6th graders soon required super glue, duct tape, and threats of death to keep them seated and quiet. (And, to my chagrin, such methods were off limits!)

However, I like to think that maybe I left those students with something more in their heads. One of my most memorable days in class, with the 11th graders, didn't involve Orwell's Animal Farm or SAT-level vocabulary. It started when one of the guys commented (for probably the third time that week) that he thought "fat chicks are disgusting." The utterance was particularly alarming considering that a rather large, sweet girl sat in the back of the class.

Really, for her weight, I thought the girl was stunningly attractive: soft, round, well-proportioned curves; nice skin; long red hair that shone like a copper penny; and a bit of spunk to her personality that kept things interesting. I couldn't bear seeing her self-esteem destroyed by the shallow words of an insensitive teenage male. So I stopped the assigned lesson and confronted the talking about love.

Every person from age 5 to 25 (and beyond) has an image in their heads of "the perfect mate." I know I did, and, in a way, still do. If given the opportunity, I'd consider licking whipped cream off actor Daniel Craig's gorgeous pecks. My physical preferences weren't much different as a teen. One thing I didn't like back then: body hair. I swore to myself that I would never marry a hairy man.

Then my husband came along: strong, handsome, witty, intelligent...and enough hair on his chest to put Sasquatch to shame. I was actually frightened the first time I saw him shirtless--frightened at the conflicting emotions the sight generated within me. But as our friendship deepened and turned to love, I not only accepted my husband's body, but I came to like and enjoy it as well. I never knew chest hair could be so soft and warm. It's now one of the things I like most about my husband, and I certainly couldn't imagine him without it.

And that was the lesson: love can be surprising, so you shouldn't limit yourself to just one physical ideal. You never know who might be listening to your snide, offhand comments. A fat chick or a hairy man may turn out to be the love of your life.

The classroom became so quiet during that speech, we could hear the walls creak.

The most important question I ever asked my mother was "How do you know when you love someone enough to marry him?" The answer she gave me has stuck with me for years: "When you can't imagine living a single day without that person in your life."

It took me a while to figure out just what she meant. When I started dating as a teenager, I tried to convince myself that I couldn't live without some of my boyfriends. I wanted to find someone who would "fit the frame" as quickly as possible.

But when I met my husband, the force of my mother's words hit me like lightening: I had to have this person in my life, everyday, loving me. All the other times I imagined my life without certain people in it, I always felt some measure of relief; I wouldn't have to put up with this one questioning my loyalty or that one trying to manipulate me. But imagining life without my husband was truly devastating. I didn't care if we spent the next 50 years just holding hands. I needed him with me.

The long-term effect of this little love lesson? I may never know. But the short-term effect was nice: no more "fat" comments in class!

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