mrs. lewis was my preschool teacher, and i loved her with the fierce determination of a three year old who was a bit too mature and wanted to be friends with the teacher (and thought she was). i wanted to mirror her every move and hold her hand whenever possible. even in this moment, i can remember what it felt like to almost rest inside the sound of her laughter and to witness the calm of her presence. she taught me to love the sound of someone's voice reading aloud. she taught me the importance of sharing and invited me to understand that i should always tell the truth. but most of all, she accepted me in a moment that could have been full of shame, and in doing so, she taught me about choosing kindness and how this invites a person to feel deeply loved.
as a child, i was often afraid of the dark. i always slept with a night light, and my bedroom door was always open. when i was three, my preschool class attended a play (i think it might have even been a marionette show), and at one point during the production, the theatre was pitch black. i remember holding mrs. lewis' hand, and at some point, she pulled me into her lap because i was so overwhelmed. in the midst of my anxiety, i did the unthinkable: i wet my pants while sitting on her lap.
and this is what i remember: she just scooped me right up and took me to the bathroom where she cleaned up both of us. i don't remember the logistics of all of that, i just remember that as i cried and cried worried she was going to be mad or not like me anymore or not let me come back to school, she soothed me in a way that let me know that she was not angry. somewhere in this memory i can hear her explaining that this happens when we are afraid sometimes. she helped me know that it was okay, and i was going to be fine, and she was fine too.
i am sure this was quite a story to be told in the teacher's lounge at the end of the day; though i suppose preschool teachers experience this now and then. still, she never invited me to feel any shame, and she never brought it up again.
as i think about the people who have been lights on my path and taught me about the choices one can make in every moment, i see how mrs. lewis and her way of being in the world shaped me in many ways. thinking about her tonight reminds me that love invites people to become even more than they already are through encouragement and acceptance. love does not invite shame. and choosing love, even during the messy and unexpected, is a powerful practice...one i want to push myself to live.
(pieces of this post originally appeared back in 2006 in a post about first loves.)