(I love telling stories. It might be my favorite “style” of writing. It is, without a doubt, the stuff that most of my readers best respond to. This year, I want to tell you some stories about my past– about people who’ve made me who I am today. Some will be happy, some will be sad. Some you will find encouraging, some you will find maddening. But they all have one thing in common. They are all: People Who’ve Made Me Who I Am Today.)
They called to ask about my sister. Their daughter, Hannah, was struggling in school and they had reached the ends of their ropes. He had the patience to help her, but his job as a pilot had him away more often than he was home. Her mom was just done. She knew she needed someone fresh and new to step in and give Hannah the support she needed to succeed.
My sister was a senior in high school at the time and, as a result, had a very busy, challenging schedule. She also would only be around for one more year before heading off (and away) to college.
My mom suggested that, perhaps, the one they really wanted was… me. I was thirteen years old, had just started eighth grade, and was a very competent student. Though I think they were wary of how young I was, they agreed to meet me and see if I might be a good fit for Hannah.
I was nervous walking down the street to their home. It felt like an interview of sorts and, at such a tender age, I’d never been on one of those. Yes, I’d babysat, but that was different. I worried I’d come across as silly and incompetent. I’d never tutored anyone before and, as the youngest in my family, I’d never even really had a reason to help someone else with their homework.
Happily, all went well and they hired me. They offered to pay me ten dollars an hour. This was a HUGE amount of money, people, especially given the fact that it was 1989 at the time!
Three days a week, I worked with Hannah. I helped her with whatever she needed. We completed her homework, reviewed key material, and prepared for tests. We commiserated over the tough stuff and giggled over the fun stuff. Honestly, though I definitely took it seriously, I also had a blast.
When parent-teacher conferences rolled around, I was invited to attend. I showed up with a notebook and took diligent notes. Her fifth grade teacher was impressed with this young, determined little tutor they had found. He was also impressed with the movement he had seen in Hannah’s grades.
I continued to tutor Hannah through her whole fifth grade year. Then sixth. And then seventh.
By then, I was a sophomore in high school and she was twelve. I will never forget the warm May day when her parents greeted me at the door with hugs. Hannah had been named one of the middle school’s Students of the Year. They invited me to attend the banquet where she was honored.
I continued to work with this girl who was, really, just three years my junior, up through the day I graduated high school. That had actually been the first year that Hannah and I had been in the same school– I as a senior and her as a freshman– and I think we may have both been a little nervous at the start. We needn’t have been. I loved seeing her smiling face and bouncing strawberry blonde hair. She loved having an upperclassman who never failed to wave to her in the hall.
I was so sad to say goodbye to Hannah. To her parents. Even to her older brothers who I only saw on their rare visits home. There were many tears as the family gave me a lovely gold bracelet and a dozen pink roses. They wished me well in all my endeavors.
This “job” of mine had turned into so very much more. I was embraced by her family and Hannah’s feelings and success became truly critical to me. On report card days, I’d give mine a cursory glance and then wait with baited breath to get to see hers. Yes, I appreciated that I got paid for my time, but I was compensated in so much more than money.
Working with Hannah taught me that there can be greater joy in watching someone other than yourself succeed.
While I had certainly received awards of my own before, it was Hannah’s Student of the Year banquet that brought tears to my eyes. It was Hannah’s first time on the honor roll that made my heart swell with pride. It was Hannah’s straight-A marking period in French 101 that inspired a spontaneous happy dance around the kitchen table.
And it was Hannah who planted the seed that maybe, just maybe, I would like to teach one day…
Other people who’ve made me who I am: