I teach high school, so Iâ€™m surrounded by teenagers for a good part of my day. Long ago, I grew accustomed to the looks I sometimes get when I mention my profession, looks of pity, surprise, or my favorite: wide-eyed looks of horror. These reactions are, however, in my case unwarranted, for there are few places Iâ€™d rather be.
When I say that all students have their attributes, it is not lip service. Most of the girls I teach this year, for instance, are equal parts sweet and strong, their world ripe with all that is to come. And sometimes, in the middle of a lesson or a casual exchange, I can look at one of these girls and, with arresting clarity, see what she will one day become.
It is, Iâ€™ve come to believe, one of the delights of teaching, of seeing in the girl what she has yet to see in herself; that is, what is to come when acne and braces and backpacks disappear. Looking at the girl, I can see the woman who is to be.
A while back, however, something interesting happened. One evening, just before I left for a beach walk, I went on Facebook and scrolled through posts until a picture of a group of women caught my attention. One of the women in the group, someone about my age whoâ€™d recently become my Facebook friend, was having a reunion of sorts with friends that appeared to be former high school or college friends.
I looked at the womanâ€™s picture again, standing laughing with her friends all laughing around her, and I just saw it. Amid all the years of wear and tear, of jobs and children and the weight of living, I saw the girl, the girl she was before all of that.
She was still there.
Afterward, as I walked, I couldnâ€™t get that picture out of my head, the image of woman as girl. When I saw her in person a few days later, despite the fact that Iâ€™d only ever known her as an adult with all the trappings of adulthood upon her, I couldnâ€™t stop seeing the girl. I wanted to laugh, so strong was the image.
After that week, something else began to change. I stood before lifted veil and began to see the girl in so many of my friends Iâ€™ve only ever known in adulthood, women who now canâ€™t remember the last time theyâ€™ve been carded, who canâ€™t recall their lives before mortgages and dependents and careers.
As a teenager, I first encountered the classic optical illusion drawing that looks like both a young lady and an old woman. I saw the young lady first, but once I knew there was an old lady to look for as well, I also found her. Theyâ€™re funny things, those optical illusions: once you know whatâ€™s there, you usually canâ€™t unsee it.
So it is with this as well. I cannot measure for you the joy this has brought me, this still seeing what time attempts to shroud. And what a gift it is,
to be able to look at the woman,