All of us have touchstones in our lives. We have people, places and things that remind of who we are and who we are meant to be. Our touchstones help ground us. They make us better people. I lost one of mine this summer. Please allow me to tell you about her. As always, I have some preliminary reflections. I have to tell you this before I can tell you that.
Last week I started my 39th year as a classroom teacher. I know. I know. You thought I retired in May. I tried, but retirement just didn't work out for me, so while I continue to try to decide what I want to be when I grow up, I have gone back to school.
As soon as I entered Heritage High School I felt the emptiness. Things didn't feel exactly right. When I walked down my hall and passed Linda Moore's room I realized what was missing. She was, and as happy as I was to be able to be back at work, I cried.
I first knew Linda as Mrs. Moore, the mother of Heritage drama teacher Michelle Thorne. Michelle is a genius at what she does, but is a lot like me -- except for the genius part, of course. She is maddeningly disorganized and seems to be flying by the seat of her pants most of the time. She doesn't color within the lines and doesn't pay too much attention to the rules. I love those things about her, and I loved her mama.
All three of my children participated in musical theater at Heritage and I met Michelle's mom at drama productions. She was kind, soft-spoken and friendly and I learned that we had a dear friend, Effie Beam, in common. We always had plenty to talk about together. One year Michelle was my Secret Santa at school. Her mama made me delicious treats every day. Best Christmas ever!
A few years later, Mrs. Moore began teaching English at Heritage, after devoting most of her adult life to the churches her former husband had served as pastor. They tell me she was a wonderful pianist and I regret that I never got to hear her play. Linda was an excellent teacher and an even better person. Simply put, she was one of the best people I have ever known. Every day, for years, I looked for her as soon as I got to school. If I saw her there I knew for a fact that the rapture had not occurred during the night. If Linda Moore was still here I had not been left behind.
A couple of years ago Linda's health began to decline. Her kidneys failed and she had to endure dialysis several times a week. We all knew by looking at her that she was tired and in pain and didn't feel well, but you wouldn't have gotten any of that information from talking to her. She came to school every day, she taught her classes without complaint, and she helped take care of her grandchildren whom she adored. If anyone needed a class covered she was the first to volunteer. She asked no quarter from her disease. She chose to bring joy to everyone she encountered.
Last year, her condition worsened. She had to make her way down the halls using first a walker and then a rolling chair. Last year was a bad year for me. I went through several major surgeries and three months of daily radiation. I was in pain and felt bad every single day. As bad as I felt and as much as I hurt, I knew that Linda felt worse and hurt more and I tried to emulate her determination. I didn't come close to exhibiting the courage and grace Linda Moore did. She became my hero and inspired me to finish the year.
In February, her health failed completely. For weeks she was in a coma in an Atlanta hospital. Once again she defied the odds. She recovered somewhat and got to come home to Michelle's house to begin rehabilitation. She fought to the very end.
Linda died on June 24 at the age of 66. Her funeral, at Canaan Baptist Church, was one of the most joy-filled events I have ever attended. The church was packed with people who knew and loved her -- as did I. I knew at that time that my life, going forward, would not be as full without her in it, but I had no idea how much I would truly miss her until I walked into the school house last week.
I have lost one of my touchstones, but I learned valuable lessons from my friend that I will attempt to emulate. Above all, when I have to decide how to react to the obstacles in my life, I will try to choose joy, in honor of her.
Darrell Huckaby is a local educator and author. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. For past columns, visit www.rockdalecitizen.com or www.newtoncitizen.com.