When I was in fourth grade I brought to school a discarded pair of my Grandpa’s Air Force issued eyeglasses. They were aviator style glasses - the ones without the customary curve to the earpiece. My Grandpa was not an aviator and I did not require corrective lenses, yet there I was sitting at my desk wearing aviator glasses and getting a headache. What could possess an elementary school boy to do such a thing? Duh, a girl.
Katie was the brown-haired kewpie doll that sat a couple of seats down from me. She and I were an item in the simplest, most innocent possible sense of the term. We liked each other. And Katie had been prescribed glasses halfway through the school year. I watched her awkwardly pry their case open and put them on, never raising her gaze from her lap. Maybe it was my heart aching that Katie was self-conscious or maybe it was just an attempt to score brownie points, but the next day I casually donned Grandpa’s aviators.
Mrs. Mitchell was our teacher. In the course of her duties she was walking amongst us, perhaps handing out worksheets or taking up homework. She got to me. She stood over my little desk, her hands busy with the papers. She had seen the glasses and I felt a slight twinge of embarrassment. She said that she didn’t know that I wore glasses. I gave a half-baked explanation as my ears warmed. She glanced over at Katie and then back at me and then continued passing out papers. Or maybe collecting papers, I don’t remember.
But I do remember the relief I felt. Not the relief in my eyes and forehead when I finally took the glasses off later. The relief that Mrs. Mitchell walked on wordlessly. I didn’t have the sophistication at the time to think of her perspective on it, I just knew she had walked on and that was that. Imagine what I must’ve looked like squinting through those 50’s era government-issued spectacles. Imagine the foolhardy audacity of my plot. But she just walked on. She could’ve crushed me with public correction. She could’ve scarred me with ridicule and derision. But she just walked on.
Later in the school year we came to the point in our science curriculum that would teach us about the universe springing uncaused from nothing and man’s ascent from lesser species by blind chance. She went over the details from the textbook. Then in the front of her public school classroom, sitting halfway on a barstool with one foot on the carpet, she made a modest declaration. She said that while this was the teaching approved by the administration, she didn’t hold to it personally. She said that she believed that God had created all that we know. I had been taught the same thing at home, so it only surprised me in the way that she said it. She, who dealt so gently with even preposterous ophthalmological assertions, was different somehow. She was bold, even if quietly so. She was mildly insurgent.
I’m so thankful for Mrs. Mitchell. The impact that she had on my life continues nearly thirty years later. Sometimes she walked on without a word and sometimes she took a stand.