Photo by Ben Hanbury
Reflection by Amber White

Sometimes we walk through life blindly, not really seeing anything. Perhaps it's not a coincidence you finally notice a magnolia tree in full bloom that you’ve passed a hundred times, or that you run into a childhood friend while on vacation in a small, remote town. Even life's tough lessons, those experiences that put knots in our stomachs and burning pain in our throats, they too have something to teach us. If you ask me, things take place to open our eyes and hearts to the beauty of life surrounding us. This was my awakening moment.


     Thoughts of lesson plans danced in my head. Mental lists were scrolling through my mind like a barrage of text scrawl that you see plastered on the news. Instead of news alerts, NASDAQ updates, and the weather forecast, it was images of checking papers, activities for parent volunteers, and creative thoughts for adding novelty to writing workshop mini-lessons for the upcoming week. I think many people visualize teachers lying lifeless on the couch with the remote control super glued to our hand for a vast majority of the weekend, but the truth is the teacher brain is always on, even on a Sunday. I had spent the day at bookstores, teacher stores, and dollar stores in search of glorious goodies for the classroom. My shopping adventure was coming to a close and I was making my way back home.

     My stomach was growling and I was thinking "outside the bun." Tacos aren't the easiest thing to eat in the car, often leaving my vehicle looking like a mobile salad bar on wheels, but the taco versus hamburger tug-of-war in my head was over. Tacos won. To my stomach's relief, there were no cars in the drive thru. I rattled off my usual—Value Meal #3—into the black box. The human but robotic-like voice from the other side responded, "$4.67. Please drive around to the first window."

     I pulled ahead and threw the car into park. No change in the console. My purse excavation began. I easily found four bills, but the quest for the change then began. I found one quarter, another quarter, two pennies, and a nickel. The window was still vacant. Like a claw machine at the arcade game, my hand dug down in search for the itty-bitty dime and to my surprise, I found one.

     With a full-fledged smile and a ravenous stomach, I was ready with the exact change. As I peered over, I noticed the young man working the drive thru is a former student. We exchanged glances and by the look on his face, I could tell Josh recognized me, but then his expression quickly twisted into a steep downward slide. Something was wrong.

     New thoughts were flooding my brain. The tidal wave was too big to ignore and these emerging thoughts would be the latest breaking news on the tickertape in my head: Is there something on my face? Why is he staring at me like he’s seen a ghost? Did he dislike me as his fourth grade teacher? Is the place being robbed? Is he embarrassed that he’s working in a fast food restaurant?

     The window finally opened. Josh was still staring at me. To break the awkward silence, I pushed the money at Josh and bluredt out, "Hi Josh! Do you remember me, Mrs. White, your fourth grade teacher?"

     Taking the money, Josh looked directly into my eyes with disbelief and explained, "Yes, Mrs. White, I remember you. I'm just a little freaked out."

     He must be shocked to see me after all these years, I thought.

     "About five months ago, I read an obituary in the local paper and thought the person that had died was you."

     Did I hear him correctly? He thought I died?

     "The obituary description fit you perfectly: teacher, no children, in your thirties, and it even cited that your mother had preceded you in death. I remembered your mom had passed the year after I had you. My father and I even sent flowers to the funeral home."

     He sent flowers? To think that a student I had more than fourteen years ago and had not exchanged a single word with since then would send flowers to my funeral was oddly flattering and indescribably enlightening. I was speechless.

     The beeping horn from the Jeep Cherokee a car or two behind me reminded me that I was having a Jimmy Stewart moment in the Taco Bell drive thru. In my zombie-like state, I grabbed my Value Meal.

     "Mrs. White, I want you to know, you’re the best teacher I ever had. It’s difficult to find the right words to describe how happy I am that you’re alive! And by the way, I’m the owner of this franchise. I hope to see you back here again. Oh, do you need any fire, hot or mild sauce?"

     "No Josh. I’m all set. Thank you. I really mean it…thank you!"


         I put my car in drive and inched forward. As I looked out the window, the sky appeared to be a deeper blue, the music in the background much, much sweeter, the mental file cabinet in my head quiet and there by the curb was a magnolia tree in full bloom. I was alive again. Spiritually and emotionally, full.

© Amber White, 2010