Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Linda (Classmate For A Day)

Last week we had a special visitor to our class. Linda Riley, the Director of Communications and Legislative Affairs at the Philadelphia Corporation for Aging. When I introduced Linda by her title, I swear, all the seniors sat a little straighter in their seats, like nervous schoolkids who just realized their principal had walked into the classroom. But Linda saved the day. She assured them she was just there as their classmate. Immediately shoulders relaxed in unison and a tingly coziness filled the room. That’s what I really meant when I said she’s special. She genuinely cares about people. I like that about her.

After class, Linda and I brainstormed over coffee about ways PCA can help our class and blog grow, which includes an upcoming profile of the class in the senior newspaper Milestones. (I won’t lie. I am excited.) I asked if she would write a little something about her impressions of the class, and today she emailed me this ... leaving me blushing in front of my computer screen...

I originally thought I was coming to observe the class, but once I got there I was caught up in the enthusiasm of the students, and decided that I would become a “classmate-for-a-day.” On the day I visited, there were five students besides me. “Mo,” who described himself as an Irishman (using various adjectives to further illuminate his character) was by far the most talkative and exuberant. He shared opinions on everything from race to religion, politics, flirtation – some Irishmen I know would have said he had “kissed the Blarney stone” because he surely had the gift of gab.

Bernice was no shrinking violet, though – she was kind enough to reprise, for my benefit, her wonderful story about the Black and White Grits she ordered in a segregated Southern restaurant when her husband was stationed in the South. And she had brought her twin sister, Beatrice, who was more shy but in the end did read us what she had written, which was about her “United Nations” family.

Helen was mostly quiet, but did offer her parents’ wisdom, which was that everyone should be treated the same. That was the same lesson my parents taught me – my mother would say that a lady is someone who treats everyone she meets like a lady (or gentleman).

Henrietta found a seat away from the table, and didn’t join in the conversation, but she wrote intently the entire time and eventually read a poem about food and culture that was a little cryptic, but seemed to me like it would fit right in to the Fringe Festival.

And there was “Benita the Beneficent” – that’s my title for her because she was the kindest, gentlest and most thoughtful teacher I’ve ever encountered. That must be why all of the students in her class are so willing to share some of their most intimate and precious thoughts and experiences.

As for me, sad to say I was only a student for one day – but I was inspired to write the story of my first date.  And I met six unforgettable people, which is quite an accomplishment for one day!