Growing in Gratitude – A First Grade Lesson for Life

Nearly all my life, I’ve regarded Mrs. Walker as a central and pivotal character in my personal history. She was more than my first grade teacher; she was the earliest person in my life other than my parents who paid exceptionally close attention to me on a daily basis. She observed my capabilities and thoughtfully, skillfully pointed me in the direction of my potential.

While that may sound lofty and grand for a first grade scenario, I assure you I’m not using hyperbole. Mrs. Walker owned and taught at Jack and Jill School, the private institution she operated in her own home. She only offered three classes each year: pre-K, kindergarten, and first grade. With so few students in a peaceful, homey environment, Mrs. Walker and her fellow teachers were able to give personal attention to everyone who attended.

I started at Jack and Jill in kindergarten, but Mrs. Walker promptly recommended that I move up to first grade upon noting my..ahem…academic ability—and, apparently, my advanced drawing skills (not to brag). When she approached my parents, my mom’s heart sank; this advancement would have me—her baby girl—leaving the nest a whole year earlier than expected. But she and my dad knew they couldn’t keep me back if I was ready to move up.

I’ll always remember the day I arrived at school and went straight into the exciting first grade classroom taught by Mrs. Walker herself, instead of trotting upstairs to kindergarten. It was in that classroom led by such a wonderful, devoted teacher that I learned to like school and enjoy being a student. That earliest year on my educational path proved to be incredibly defining for me, and it solidified Mrs. Walker’s honored, revered place in my story.

Mrs. Walker retired the year after I was in her class and moved to the mountains. We wrote each other for a while, but my family eventually moved to another state and that was that. Still, Mrs. Walker remained a beloved figure, and any mention of her over the years would prompt me and my mom in particular to marvel about how special and amazing she was and how much she cared about me. We absolutely always acknowledged what a gift it had been for me to have such an exceptional teacher.

More than 30 years after I bid Jack and Jill School adieu, I decided to search for Mrs. Walker. Considering she was at retirement age when I was last in touch with her, I didn’t know if she would still be alive. Through rampant googling, I unearthed a thread on a message board—something posted by someone who turned out to be her eldest son, and that gave me an email address to start. One email exchange, and I was in touch with wonderful Mrs. Walker! She was 88 and sparkly as ever, living with her 92 year old husband, a retired high school band director, back in the town where we’d known each other.

I immediately planned a visit, and we were happily reunited in person on the occasion of my 38th birthday. She and her sweet husband greeted me and my sweet husband like family! It was pure joy. She had a birthday cake made for me with the Jack and Jill School logo on it. We talked for hours and hours, poring over her memory books. I was overwhelmed and so touched that she had kept some special things I’d made for her in those books, along with other children’s creations, of course. She remembered me vividly with such clear recall; I felt cherished. At last, I got to hear her whole life story and come to know her as more than just my teacher. I learned how she and her husband met, the adventure they had trying to get married while he was stationed far away during war time, what it was like to run a school in their personal residence, what she did after retiring. What an interesting and good life! That day with Mrs. Walker—30+ years since we’d seen each other—has to be a glimpse into what heavenly reunions must be like. So much mutual appreciation and love!

A year after that visit, I returned with my mom so she could see Mrs. Walker, too. Not long after, my mom’s health began to decline, I went into business for myself and eventually fell out of touch again. Until this year! I recently went for another happy reunion with Mrs. Walker who is now 100 years old! Mr. Walker died several years ago, as did my mom, and we traded stories about the losses. But we spent most of our time together once again talking about Jack and Jill School and all the wonderful memories. I took the opportunity to emphasize to her how important she is to me and surely to countless others who were her students. As expected, it was such a precious time that I now carry with me like a priceless treasure.

After this visit, I had a new revelation that’s expanded and added dimension to my thankfulness. As much as Mrs. Walker plays a pivotal role in my life, I have realized my mom merits just as much gratitude in the equation. My mom was the one who carefully chose the right school for me to start my education. She hand-picked Jack and Jill School knowing it would be a good fit. Then, she consistently called my attention to how uniquely special Mrs. Walker was—long before I had enough life experience to really recognize that fact on my own, so that I would be fully aware of that fact and hold it dear the rest of my life.

I love it when I see how dots connect in my life. I could regale you for hours about how this person led me to that person—all those beautifully poetic moments that culminate in my life’s ‘meant to be’s’. That’s why I’m kind of surprised how long it took me to make the connection here. I suppose it’s because my mom and I shared status in the Mrs. Walker Fan Club—all the adoration was directed to her. Wish I’d had this epiphany while Mom was still on this earth so I could thank her directly for paying good attention and making such a thoughtful decision for me.

Ya know those beautifully poetic moments I mentioned? I actually keep a running list of them in a document on my computer. I’ll definitely be adding a line item about my mom and Mrs. Walker.

I highly recommend keeping a list like this. When you first start one, I suggest you carve a nice, quiet hour or so to really think about all the chapters of your life. There’s nothing too small to be included; as a matter of fact, I love how the little things connect to become the big things. I appreciate having a list like this so I can revisit it whenever I need a reminder that God is always at work and things will come together as they’re meant to be. When things are seeming foggy or stalled, this list is a beacon of light.

In keeping a list like this, I promise you’ll become more actively aware of the poetry of situations….or the potential for poetry…even as you’re in the tangled middle of circumstances. This perspective will help you stay on course and deepen your resolve and trust despite whatever craziness or chaos might be happening.

I am confident this list will spark you to be more grateful and more boldly express that gratefulness whenever you get the opportunity. When you piece together how someone or some situation brought about a meant-to-be in your life and marvel at the beauty of that, it’s hard to contain the thankfulness—to those who are part of the poetry and to God.

It will also awaken you to the reality the ways you’ve been a dot that created connections for others. It’s pretty amazing to reflect and realize the ways you were used in the writing of poetry in someone else’s life.

Ya know, one thing I discovered about myself in Mrs. Walker’s first grade class was that I really like to write and tell my stories out loud. So, I guess it’s quite poetic that I’m sharing all this with you right now, in this forum.

Now—I don’t know how the dots connected and brought us together right now, but I trust it’s meant to be and that we both might be better for it. And for that, I am so grateful.


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