Day 3: A Photo of Yourself 2 Years Ago
“Jess, you are so amazing! Don’t ever settle. Always be searching for the next adventure and make sure you care about people because they need you. Good luck!!!”
Finding the perfect picture from two years ago, one that represents what life was back then, proved to be a more difficult task than expected. Many thoughts kept running through my head, such as “Do I just use an old selfie of myself?”, and “Ew, there’s no way I’m letting anyone see that…” But these thoughts were futile, since I knew from the start I’d end up choosing a picture based on its profound meaning to me, then and now.
It may be rare that I can say this and mean it, but I really enjoyed high school. Like everything else in life, it had its rocky parts (well, very rocky because, you know, high school.) but I was able to wake up every morning not dreading the day ahead. I was able to walk into my 7:50 AM class and already be in tears because of how much my classmates made me laugh. It was a unique kind of environment, a private Catholic institution where we had the luxury of knowing every single person in our 500-student school. The difficulty was we were always in each others’ business, but the upside was that we became a sort of dysfunctional family. THE POINT IS, Senior year was one hell of a time. I felt the grip of rigorous academics finally loosening on me, the weight of social pressures rising off my shoulders. I felt excited about my bright future, ready for what college would bring, and confident that my life was moving in the right direction.
And although I had no idea at the time how difficult the coming year would be for me, high school gave me the gifts to overcome that coming year and fight those battles with a kind of strength and courage I didn’t know I possessed.
Now I know, I learned it from my high school math teacher.
The Man, the Math Teacher, the Legend
Mr. B. was my math teacher for two years of high school. I don’t like math, but I LOVED everything about his class. He made it engaging, transformed complexity to simplicity, and genuinely made me feel excited about going to class. He always had a new story to tell, a new word of advice to deliver, and a new pair of wacky socks on he’d proudly display for us. Mr. B. was a downright legend in my high school, his name whispered and praised throughout the crowded halls like he was the Hero of an ancient Epic tale.
Throughout senior year, Mr. B. became more than just a math teacher to me. He became my mentor and personal hero. He was a man with an infectious spirit, the kind of person who makes you feel warm and happy just by being with them. He had endless patience for us spastic kids when we didn’t deserve it, and always spoke to us as an equal even when he grew frustrated. He made us all feel so important, cared about, respected, and loved.
Then one day, he sat us all down and gave us the news.
“I’m joining the Peace Corps. Me and my wife are selling everything we own, moving to Ecuador, and we don’t know when or if we’ll ever be back.”
It was like a bomb had dropped right on that little classroom. Everyone went dead silent, jaws dropped to the floor, heartbeats suspended. Some started crying. Some ran up and threw their arms around him. Others just sat there in complete disbelief. It was truly one of the most powerfully moving and sad moments I have ever been a part of. He went on to explain to us that helping people is his life, and he wanted to make a radical change to better the lives of children living in poverty.
I’ll never forget what he told us that day.
“I’m scared. I don’t know what it will be like, or what’s going to happen, but I do know this. I will never allow myself to miss out on that one big opportunity to do something amazing. I won’t be that person who wonders, what if? Remember guys, there are some people out there who are simply existing. Moving through life numbly, dissatisfied with their spouse and their job and their house. My best advice to you is simply to never settle. Don’t simply exist, live.”
These words walk with me everyday. I am constantly reminded of my inner strength through the lessons he has taught me, in his words and in actions. Mr. B. is currently in Ecuador right now, changing lives and spreading his love despite the poverty and danger he’s exposed to daily.
I will be reuniting with him in 2017 and all I know is, I can’t wait to see what crazy socks he’ll have on.
“Jess, you are so amazing! Don’t ever settle. Always be searching for the next big adventure and make sure you care about people because they need you. Good luck!!!” -Mr. B.
Addressed to me in my 2014 Senior yearbook.