“On that same day the LORD told Moses, “Go up into the Abarim Range to Mount Nebo in Moab, across from Jericho, and view Canaan, the land I am giving the Israelites as their own possession. There on the mountain that you have climbed you will die and be gathered to your people, just as your brother Aaron died on Mount Hor and was gathered to his people. This is because both of you broke faith with me in the presence of the Israelites at the waters of Meribah Kadesh in the Desert of Zin and because you did not uphold my holiness among the Israelites. Therefore, you will see the land only from a distance; you will not enter the land I am giving to the people of Israel.” – Deuteronomy 32:48-52
I’ve often been told Catholic school instructors are the things legends are made of. Mine certainly were that way. My junior high Social Studies/Art teacher was the stuff of legends: a nightmare incarnate, tottering close to 300 pounds, wearing black sneakers, black pantyhose, and white ankle socks with her various clothing – whether or not it matched (forget being a fashion statement). I’ll never forget the day she sat in front of the class and cleaned her ears with her keys. Then there was the time she stood up on the desk in front of all of us during an art class and told us to draw her. Making her blonde, thin, and petite would have been an impossibility, not to mention a lie – and “drawing what we saw” would probably land us detention – so it was anyone’s game what to do. Above the chalkboard in her class read a sign, “You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say CAN and WILL be used against you. Exercise this right!” She was a terror, played favorites (of which I was not one of them), and considered herself to be extremely fair. She wasn’t.
My junior high Science teacher was just strange. Her whole life, identity, very being was the Catholic Church. She was exceedingly into Marian devotions. Our Lady of Medjugorje graced her filing cabinet and she thought a fun way to start the day was by saying the Rosary. While she was a decent instructor in the area of Science, her concepts of things were sometimes strange because of her Catholic concepts. For example, abstaining from sex until marriage was equated in the minds of some students as not eating chocolate during Lent. Not to mention the fact that her Catholicism led her into territory that was unscientific, and she gave out medically inaccurate information more than once. She had a terrible marriage, had severe battles with the parish priest, and involved us in things we should have never known about.
Then there was my religion/math teacher. Her whole identity was “helping others.” She considered herself to be a truly loving teacher. She wasn’t. She was one of those guilt people – don’t want or complain about anything, because “people are starving in China” types. I remember sitting in the classroom one day, waiting for math to start, talking to my friend about our parents wanting a snow day. It had snowed a lot that morning, but they didn’t close school, which meant we all had to be there. My teacher eavesdropped on our conversation, and reprimanded us in front of everyone. “You were warm last night, you had food in your stomach, and clothes on your back, and you will NOT complain about not having a snow day, do you understand?” I wasn’t having it. In the first place, we had a wood stove in our house which never left me warm so she didn’t know what she was talking about. In the second place, I was not going to be censored. I politely said back to her, but loud enough so everyone in the back could hear, “We were just talking about the fact that our parents would really like to have a snow day. No one was complaining.” She stopped for a minute and looked at me stunned. She said, “I apologize.” Three of the boys in the back of the room whispered at me real loudly once she turned her back and pumped their fists, real encouraging because someone stood up to Ms. Loving Teacher.
There were others – the crazy, manic principles, the librarian who was an eighty-four year old nun that nobody ever stood up to – except for me, the music teacher who lectured us on how awful Germany was vs. the US, and so on. Yet in the midst of this, one of the most important people in my life was my junior high English teacher. She was a different kind of teacher, a stark contrast to the negative, punitive examples of education engulfing Catholic school education. She gave us a break when no one else did. Her classes were important, creative, and as fun as you could make English grammar. We actually wanted to talk to her. She taught me how to write. She encouraged me to be what I could be, when my other teachers tolerated me, or treated me as a pity case. She was a teacher who made a difference.
Even after I graduated I would see her from time to time. When I went into ministry, she found out about it, and expressed interest in it. She said she wanted to talk with me about what I was doing sometime. This was a very big deal to me at the time. Nobody was interested in my work back then. Nobody wanted to hear about it, expressed irate disdain and anger over the whole concept of it. Everyone I’d known as a Catholic either turned on me or simply wanted nothing to do with me anymore. This woman – who at one point had been so important to me, and I credited with where I was heading, in many ways – said she was interested. She would call.
I would have expected a lack of response from my former Social Studies teacher, my former Science teacher, even my former Religion/Math teacher. A week passed. She never called. Several weeks passed, turning into years. She never called. When I approached her about this, she never even responded. I saw her only one other time after this, in a parking lot, and she behaved very uncomfortable while trying not to act uncomfortable. It was never spoken of again. Her role in my life was completed, and it was never to be any more than it already had been. She’d been an important part of my past, but was not going to be a part of my future. She didn’t have what it would take to walk with me the next phase of the journey.
When I think of this incident, it makes me think of God’s words to Moses when he was told he would not enter into the Promised Land. Moses was the most important person in the life of the Israelites. We focus much on Moses and his disobedience, but how did Israel respond to the news? Surely everyone knew the great and mighty Moses, the one who had led them out of Egypt and led them in the wilderness for forty years, was not going to enter into the Promised Land. He had disobeyed! He had failed to display godly conduct before all of them. As a result, he was not able to walk the next phase of the journey with them. We all know how people talk. In hushed whispers, the people talked. They recalled the day he lost his temper. They recalled their own shock as to how he behaved. They remembered how God responded, and the severity with which He disciplined Moses. Something in their viewpoint of Moses changed that day. While they’d viewed him as a gateway to the Lord, they saw his humanity. Moses was still just a man, and while he was a great, mighty, and humble man, all their grand concepts of him seemed different in light of what happened. When Moses died, Israel didn’t just mourn Moses’ death, they also mourned their concepts of him.
Every one of us has people that were or are extremely important to us. Every one of us has also experienced the great letdown that follows when people who mean the world to us suddenly begin acting much like the rest of the world. Forgiveness is awesome and essential, but somehow, things are never the same again as we realize our most important people are not necessarily who they might have been to us once upon a time. When confronted with this, we must remember: following behind every Moses is a Joshua, ready and willing to stand with us as important and take us to the next place we need to go in God. As long as we have our sights set on God and all He has for us, we will see many people come and go as they walk with us for the portion of our journey He assigns to them in His infinite purpose and vision.
(C) 2010 Lee Ann B. Marino. All rights reserved.