Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Little Imprints

I was at the autism support group when a woman walked in a few minutes late. She had a lilting, sing-song, difficult-for-me-to-place accent (Caribbean? South African?) and a warm smile. Someone asked her to fill us in on her child with autism, and she explain that she was actually an educator who works for CREC, who works with school systems specifically, and has a special passion for working with people of all ages with autism.

"I come to groups like this for inspiration," she told us. When the beaurocracies weigh her down, when schools just don't get it, when advice falls on deaf ears, when she wonders if it's worth it, she likes to go and listen to the parents' voices. They remind her why she does what she does. They spur her on to keep fighting, keep doing everything she knows to do.

I mentioned something during the meeting about Ethan and the Windsor school system, and afterward we started chatting and this woman said, "I thought I recognized you. You have...Ethan, right?"

I stared at her blankly. I honestly didn't remember ever meeting this woman.

"We met a few times," she replied, not unkindly. I felt horrible. Usually I'm better at remembering people. My mind was drawing such a blank I honestly was wondering if she was mixing up Ethan with another kid. Yet she had named him when I hadn't said his name specifically during the meeting.

"I worked with Windsor to develop some programs back in January and February last year," she said. "I'll always remember Ethan." She smiled. "I still have a heart he gave me on Valentine's Day. I can still see him walking up to me and tugging on my sweater. Then he said my name in almost a whisper and handed the heart to me. It was so, so sweet."

I told her how Ethan was doing now. She was amazed. He's calling out to his teachers down the hall to say hi? Following around other kids and imitating them; playing chase on the playground? Yelling for people to 'Watch me!' She was incredulous. I marveled at how well they'd done with getting him just what he needed at school.

"You know, I work with nearly 50 school systems," she told me. "And the program they have going there is one of the best."

I drove home a little incredulous myself. She had come to hear us. She had come to listen. The world needs more educators like that. And to hear that by the grace of God we had ended up in the town with a public school system that no one's talking about (it's certainly not one of the best, by far, statewide), yet has a wonderful program that is just what Ethan needs, flooded me with gratitude.

Then it hit me like a thunderclap. Of course. I knew who she was. I was mortified. She was the person who filled in last year when the main special ed teacher was out on a six-week medical leave, just a month after Ethan had started school. How could I have not remembered?

And yet, while I may not have remembered her, she remembered Ethan. She carried a picture of him in her mind that warmed her heart. I loved that thought. And that made me wonder: how often to we make an impact in the smallest way, not knowing we even made a difference?

We can't discount the smile we might give, the gesture to help, the compliment we may extend just when someone needs it. We may never know the imprints we make -- like this woman showing up at a meeting to be encouraged and in the process, encouraging me...and the ripples spread, like pebbles droped in a pond.


Anonymous said...

i feel the same way about our school and town. God knew. And He put us exactly where we needed to be.

a teacher who comes to a support group meeting just to listen to the parents' voices... um, WOW... gives me goosebumps.

sounds Ethan really touched her heart! not surprised. =)

Unknown said...

This is so inspiring for me as a teacher. Thanks for the reminder.

Deb said...

I will never forget any of my teachers, and there were a few who truly impacted my life. My 5th grade teacher came to my going away party the summer I moved away and I have never, ever, forgotten it. Educators should never underestimate the impact they make, with even the smallest of gestures.