A few weeks ago I met with an old school friend. We had a lot to discuss about the last six years that had elapsed since we last saw each other. But of all things we spoke of, one stood out to me, nagging me from within.
She mentioned our school principal, Mrs. D. She also taught English Literature for senior classes during our time, and I had the opportunity to sit through her classes for a short 2 months before changing schools. The last thing I had heard of Mrs. D was that she had retired. I had no idea of her current whereabouts until my friend revealed it to me.
Mrs. D now taught English for adults from the comfort of her home. “Oh, nice!” I exclaimed when I heard that. I knew my teacher could never stop teaching, but I hadn’t thought of her moving on from enlightening school students to adults. Nevertheless, I was happy to hear that she had moved on and enjoyed retirement.
My friend continued her story. Everyone in school knew how much Mrs. D appreciated good music. She’d nod her head, smiling, whenever a student played the grand piano in the auditorium. And then she’d voice her admiration to the entire school during assembly. She was also a great pianist herself.
And so when my friend told me that Mrs. D still played the piano whenever she had time, I took a hike down my mind to those days when we’d file into the auditorium every morning, beating our feet to crescendos and staccatos. But the fleeting image burst like a gum bubble when I heard Mrs. D couldn’t play as often as she’d liked to because she had wrist pains and nerve issues. “Old age, you know.” My friend commented, offhand. It was just a matter of fact. At that moment, my reality stood still.
I hadn’t thought of my teachers getting old. I had been so busy focussing on my life and the changes I underwent that I didn’t even pause to think that my teacher had a life of her own—a life that went by just as mine did. My memory of Mrs. D was frozen in the classroom, and that I could walk into class tomorrow, flip the page of my text-book, and continue reading between the lines of Iago’s speech.
I hadn’t, even for a moment, considered that my teacher’s life no longer involved striding into class in a smart sari and not-so-heeled shoes. I hadn’t thought of her slumping on the couch in a sweatshirt, or watching television after 10 pm. Somehow, it never struck me that teachers are normal people, too, and that as they grew older, they’d also grow weak in the knees, stutter in their speech, and caress wrinkled skins.
It made me feel old to hear the reality of my teacher. She wasn’t as old as dying a natural death, but she was older than my image of her, and for a while, I couldn’t accept that. Here we were, standing at the airport, chatting away like a couple of adults discussing serious economic issues, when in truth neither of us felt adult-like at all. We had, of course, walked out formal education and into employment, but our memories still lived in the same school uniforms that we clad six years ago.
Oh, how much we hated Mrs. D’s rules. She made us all wear ribbons on our hair and would ensure our skirts reached well below our knees—the punishment for improper length being teachers undoing the hemming our skirts to make them longer.
Yet now, life had turned the tables on us and we just stared in longing into the mirror of our memories, that shadowed fondest part of our lives.