I teach high school, so I’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 I’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, I’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 who’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 woman’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 couldn’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 I’d only ever known her as an adult with all the trappings of adulthood upon her, I couldn’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 I’ve only ever known in adulthood, women who now can’t remember the last time they’ve been carded, who can’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. They’re funny things, those optical illusions: once you know what’s there, you usually can’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,