I could have married that beanbag.
If I had to guess, I’d estimate that I spent a third of my 6th grade school year nestled into the yellow beanbag chair in the back of our classroom. I’d pull the hood of my cotton sweatshirt over my head, and settle in for however long Mrs. Bascom, the short-haired 5th and 6th grade teacher, would permit. She was pretty generous.
Apart from acquiring some shockingly bright Lisa Frank stickers, my 6th grade year left a lot to be desired. It was smack in the middle of my sweat pant-wearing, Goosebump-reading, moody and melancholy experience of junior high. I was still donning rastafari Tweety Bird t-shirts and playing with stuffed animals, all while my peers were reading Jane Eyre, crushing on boys and singing along with Gavin Rosdale on their Walkmen. I felt incredibly uncool, and were it not for a couple of merciful friends, might have burrowed so far into that beanbag that I would have needed bottled oxygen.
Psychedelic Baby Seal Trapper Keeper. This will take ocean swimming off of your bucket list.
Then along came Mrs. Bascom. She only taught at our school for that single year, and I have a few lingering memories hinting that she wasn’t well liked by the students. I’m not sure that I even liked her all of the time. Somehow, though, she found a way into my dreary, preshrunk cotton world. Aside from allowing me to learn from my cushy perch at the back of the room, she also introduced me to creative writing (fabulously dramatic poetry) and even at one point, told me she thought I could have a future in synchronized swimming.
If I were anyone else, this would have been my Aha Moment. The punch line. The fleece pulled out from over my eyes.
But I’m not anyone else. And it wasn’t.
Strapping on my swimsuit like a coat of arms, I cannonballed into the pool with her high school aged daughter, who was, in fact, a real-life synchronized swimmer. I feathered my hands through the water. I flutter-kicked my legs. I did my best to hold my arms straight up in the air, from the soft skin of my biceps to my pale, unpolished fingernails. I may have even worn nose plugs for the first time, though I can’t say for sure.
It felt like a dream. A dream that stank of chemicals and sweat and pure awesomeness.
I don’t remember at all what transpired after this visit to the pool, but I know that my budding career never materialized the way that I’d thought it might. I imagine that I busied myself with my typical concerns: wondering how I could adjust my afternoon plans to incorporate the Lion King theme song, consuming a whole bag of plain potato chips, magnetic earrings, and going by the name Heather, which was my favorite (followed closely by Maxi, followed closely by Heather again).
What I take away from my brief calling as a luminary of the chlorinated world was the fact that a middle-aged woman took a glum sixth grader and gave her hope. Hope for a future, perhaps as a National Poet Laureate, or perhaps as an athlete of the nautical persuasion, but fundamentally as a person worthy of interest. Did I have talents that were undiscovered? Was I compelling? Would anyone listen if I had words to say? “Yes”, she said.
Yes. Yes. Yes.
My parents had been affirming me for years, as had, I’m sure, other teachers and adults in my life, but when your emotions feel so heavy and your persona feels more like a suit to wear than your real self, it gets difficult to carry on with a smile. When you have perceived so many discouraging messages (and what preteen hasn't), the truth seems like a voice not meant for you to hear.
My life didn’t change overnight. It took a few years before I really began to feel at home in my body and mind, but this was the beginning. For as many of us who have felt the transformative power of someone’s belief, there are even more who haven’t. While I may have been the only girl my age tucking in her Pound Puppy at night, I know that I wasn’t the only kid who worried that she would never find her place.
Mrs. Bascom let me wallow in the beanbag, but she didn’t leave me there. Her encouragement didn’t lead me to pursue a lifetime of impressive athletic feats, but rather demonstrated to me that I was a person of value, and that I should dream, because I was capable and interesting and had undiscovered talent. And to this day, when I write of hopeful things, such as this, I look back and think of my sixth grade teacher.
With this said, I have to ask myself whether I realize that I am equipped to do exactly what Mrs. Bascom did. Do I believe that I have the ability to speak the future into someone’s life? Do you? With less work than you or I might imagine, we can shoot up flares of confidence over hundreds of uncertain horizons. Just like a changed track will divert a train down a new path, whatever encouragement we can give to the lives we intersect with has the potential to permanently alter their trajectory. Let me say that again: something as simple as our encouragement can permanently alter someone’s trajectory. And perhaps, hopefully, that affected life will someday repeat the process.
So, let us be kind and be present.
Let us listen well and perceive what is beyond the words we hear.
Let us utter words of hope. Inspire confidence. Instill value.
Just as Mrs. Bascom helped me see that I had something to contribute to this world, you and I have been given the opportunity to take someone’s hand and lift that person out of their proverbial beanbag chair. Are we doing it?
When you are worried that you aren’t good enough to help someone else, or that you don’t have it all together, relax.
Please, relax. I am worried too.
But none of us are perfect, and yet we are perfectly fit for this job.
So let us be brave, and you and I can shoot up a flare of confidence over a hundred horizons. Perhaps together we can light up the sky.