18 12 2003

Some people come along in life, march straight into your heart, and instantly belong there. You could no more remove them than you could cut out your heart and keep living. Of course, you’d never dream of removing them. You’d be crazy if you did.

I don’t know when I first met Patrick, but I got to know him when I became his teacher in 1991. I was hired to teach third grade and Latin at a classical Christian school in its founding year. The third-grade class consisted of seven children, one of whom was my daughter, Grace. Two other girls and four boys comprised the whole group, and a unique bunch they were. One boy, John, had Turrets Syndrome, but we didn’t know that at the time. I learned a lot about patience and creative teaching methods with John. The intelligence span in my little class ranged from brilliant to can’t-even-write-the-alphabet. Patrick wasn’t the top student, but he was bright and had enough enthusiasm to make up for any deficiencies. I loved him from day one.

Patrick had perpetually tanned skin, dark brown hair that refused to be tamed, eager green eyes, and a smile to melt the hardest heart. He lived in an adventure world in his imagination, where he traveled the globe in a dusty fedora with a leather whip at his belt. Patrick dreamed of being Indiana Jones. Whenever he possibly could, he performed some sort of stunt, whether it was leaping over the railing alongside the ramp to the building or dive-rolling into the classroom. Sometimes during recess, he’d run through a prickly bush in hopes of emerging with a few admirable scrapes, and–if he got really lucky–drawing blood. Preferably on his lip.

Patrick gave his all in class. In spite of his irrepressible spirit for adventure, he truly desired to please, and forced himself to focus and learn. I encouraged his imagination, allowing him to write stories about his make-believe exploits instead of some dry, pointless topic. He rewarded me by pouring his heart into whatever I asked him to do. Patrick did everything 150%, and once he loved you, his undying affection was guaranteed.

In the spring of the year, I wrote a play for my class called The Revenge of Bad Bryan. The characters were written specifically for my students. During class we painted scenery, planned costumes, and practiced lines. We had a villain–Bad Bryan, of course, and two protagonists. One of them was none other than Indiana Jones with enough heroic action in his part to assure Patrick’s full devotion to the project. We performed the play for the whole school and their families. I still have the program and video of that play. The sparkle in Patrick’s eye was visible from the back row.

That summer we moved back to Texas. Before we left, we attended a skating party, and Patrick was there. When it was time for the couples’ skate, Patrick asked me to be his partner. We held hands and circled the rink. Patrick made no attempt to hide his joy. Such is the beauty of eight years old. You can wear love on your face without reserve. As the song ended, Patrick reached in his pocket. He pulled out what looked like an engagement ring, held it out, and said, “This is a friendship ring. I want you to wear it . . . from me.”

He looked at me with those beautiful, innocent green eyes, so full of expectation and yet a little shy. I wondered for a moment if I should even take the ring. Did his mother know about this? But I couldn’t break his heart. I smiled, took the ring, slipped it on my right hand, and said, “Thank you, Patrick. I’ll treasure this forever.”

The biggest grin spread across his face, he took my hand, and we skated out of the rink. Later that evening I asked his mom about the ring. She said, “Oh, it’s fine. He told me he wanted to give it to you. It’s not a real diamond or anything.” She paused. “He really loves you, you know.”

“I know.” I really loved him, too.

Patrick wrote me letters from time to time. Months or even years might pass between them, but they never completely stopped coming. When he was in junior high, I received one formally addressed in neat handwriting. An arrow pointed at the address block, and next to it he wrote, “You taught me this.” I hadn’t even opened it yet and I was already crying. Patrick always had that effect on me.

Now Patrick is a junior in college. He’s still partial to fedoras. He’s an amazing kid with lots of friends, wrestles on his college wrestling team, travels on mission trips in the summer. He sends us letters detailing his missionary efforts, the same infectious enthusiasm leaping from the page. Our family always pledges to be part of his prayer team, and we send donations to help finance his trips.

Patrick hasn’t lost his knack for making me smile through tears. Not long ago I received an e-mail. He said I remain his all-time favorite teacher. Then he wrote, “Do you remember that friendship ring I gave you?”

I hadn’t thought of the ring in years, and I was amazed he would remember it and bring it up. I responded, “I still wear that ring every day.” He knew I was kidding.

What he may not know is that my friendship with him stays with me every day. In a much more permanent place.



2 responses

20 12 2003

You and me, young infatuated boy

Just teasing! 🙂 Beware, or Howard Publishing might turn you into a sweet story work horse. You really do have a way with combining the bitter and the sweet in just the right combinations.

20 12 2003

Kind of like dark chocolate?

Thanks! That’s a nice compliment.

Truth be known, Patrick also had a crush on Grace in third grade. When he e-mailed me recently he asked for her e-mail, and they’ve been writing back and forth. I think the teacher crush faded long ago, but the twenty-year-old daughter has retained her appeal. ;o) What’s that all about?

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