Archive for Thursday, July 22, 2010

Lost life brings up memories of lessons gained

July 22, 2010

I was taught to dance by a woman who could not walk.

Edna Kloepper was my first grade school teacher. I could today walk down the hall where her class was located and find the very room where she taught her first year here in Bonner. My mother was her first room mother.

She so ennobled my life that she became a figure in my first work of fiction published many years after she had me as a student. She was my first encounter with a handicapped person; she made being handicapped seem simply another variation on life’s theme.

She fell once on the playground and we all gathered around her to help her up. She shooed us away and struggled to her feet, using the crutches that she used to stand with.

In those days she was able, with the use of crutches, to stand and with a great deal of effort make her way around the classroom and playground.

She struggled that day to her feet while we stood by and watched, all at the same time learning that while one may struggle with life, it is possible to retain dignity for oneself and obtain respect from others.

We learned to wait until asked, to stand by until needed, to be prepared to do our part when the time came.

When I returned home from an out-of-town trip and heard of her death, I knew the time had come to write a column I hoped never to write; to offer a tribute that will never measure up to her generosity and graciousness, her determination and sheer grit.

But write it I will. When a debt is owed, a debt must be repaid. And I owe Edna Kloepper for the love of learning she instilled in me and all her “little plums.” I owe her for the love of country she imbued at the opening of her class daily with the “Pledge of Allegiance” and the singing of “God Bless America.” She was an unapologetic patriot and I loved her for that.

I owe her for teaching me to dance, recorder in hand and prancing around the classroom on a rainy day. She taught my feet to dance and my spirit to keep time with the undulating and challenging songs of life. To be different was a gift, she would say, celebrate it for all you’re worth.

I don’t envision her running freely down the golden streets of heaven. I imagine her sitting in a chair with children whose lives she has graced gathered about her feet, with her outstretched hand saying, “dance for me.”

And they will clasp her hands, pull her up from her chair, bear her up with the strength of eagles, the grace of doves and will dance for her and with her into a new dawn.

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