I used to be a teacher. Teaching is rewarding while also challenging. I don’t miss all the testing, the paperwork, the classroom management or the lesson planning. But I do miss (most of) my students. They inspired me each and every day. I also have the utmost respect for our teachers. They are selfless warriors.
In my last teaching job, I taught adults English and a Second Language, mainly to young Latina mothers and elderly Koreans. In essence, my classroom contained a cornucopia of cultures and personalities.
This week, I received a phone call I had been dreading the moment I started teaching adult school. One of my students informed that another student had passed away. The moment those words came out of her mouth, I immediately began to mentally shuffle through all the faces and names I had known for years. Who was it? I soon found out. It was one of my favorite students: Cha Young.
Cha Young had been my student for years. She was an elderly Korean woman who was retired and had one middle-aged son. However, what defined her was the fact that she was a widow. Her husband had been severely ill for years and Cha Young had dedicated a decade of her life caring for her sick husband. After he passed away, Cha Young decided to continue her life by getting out of the house to learn English with me.
When you teach the same students for many years on a daily basis, you learn these intimate details of their lives. In my classroom, students would share in conversation and in writing about their stories and experiences. From these activities, I discovered very early on that Cha Young was deeply in love with her husband and missed him every second of her existence. She was a quiet and reserved student, but she always expressed her devotion to her husband. Her love was palpable and so beautiful. She beamed with love.
I recall a particular moment when I began to understand the depth of Cha Young’s love. She had written a response to an essay question, but I could not understand one of her sentences. When I asked her to clarify, she explained that she meant to express that she was sad because her husband would never come home again. Her voice began to quiver and she told me he story of how they met and how he died. At this point, as she described her love, tears ran down her cheeks as she verbally confirmed that now she was a widow. What struck me above all else was when she confessed that all she wanted was to be with him again. It was as if her husband took a big chunk of her heart with him when he died.
I can’t say I am surprised that the phone call I received this week was about Cha Young. She was herself very sick and had had several heart operations when she was my student. She was frail, walked with a cane and had the beginnings of Parkinson’s disease. Despite her infirmity, Cha Young was dedicated to learning English with me. Students like Cha Young define my teaching experience. She is why I miss the classroom.
Although my heart breaks to know that Cha Young is no longer with us, I am also filled with relief. Relief to know that she is with her husband again. It was her greatest wish and she expressed this to me on many occasions. Because of Cha Young, I learned first hand that marriage and love are infinite. Death does not part love; Death only expands the profoundness of love.
Cha Young is now reunited with the love of her life.
My only regret is never telling Cha Young thank you for teaching me the meaning of love. It’s one of the greatest things I have learned in my years of teaching. True love never dies; death is a temporary roadblock. Death only enhances love.