This was a hard Thanksgiving for me. Almost a year ago to the day, one of my dearest friends was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer. Over the last year, I have watched my friend approach his diagnosis with a courage and determination that has left me in constant awe.
The realist in me has always feared the worst and sought the hardcore facts, while the optimist in me has thought of my brave friend who has never given up hope and promised to fight this battle like a champion. He has been more than just an inspiration…he has been a reminder of all the good that is in the world. A reminder that if he isn’t going to go down without a fight, I can’t either.
So, on this Thanksgiving, after learning that his cancer has spread to his liver, I spent my time connecting memories of us over the years and thinking about how very grateful I am for our friendship and for the amazing relationships that I have with my students.
Even though this year came with some sadness, I took time to pause and think about all that I have to be thankful for, and at the top of my mind are my students. They are the ones that bring a genuine smile to my face each day, challenge me to think harder, empathize more and grow personally as I learn to be a better teacher.
I think of how grateful I am for their childish humor, kind hearts and eagerness to know everything there is to know about the world around them. At times, I have felt frustration with the teaching profession and have given thought to calling it quits, but in my heart of hearts, I know that brave optimism is what my students need, and it’s one thing that I will always treasure from my friend.
One of the things that I will always remember about my friend is his boyish sense of humor, and the magnetism with which he attracted people to him. We met during our freshman year of college. He dated my roommate, and we just became great friends.
We rowed together on the varsity rowing team, always sharing a love of the sport and the camaraderie that went with 4 a.m. practices, weekend regattas and mental fights on the ergometer trying to beat our best times. We traveled together to East Africa, where I remember some of our best memories, like not showering for weeks on end, Tsetse fly invasions, Doxycycline induced burns and crazy adventures in local Nairobi slums.
We still talk about the animals, the people and the sicknesses we experienced on that unforgettable trip. Back on campus, we covered for each other on countless occasions and always stood by as a wingman or wingwoman. He loved the movie “Top Gun,” and I can’t imagine hearing the theme song without grinning and thinking of my friend. I don’t remember bad times with him, just the good ones—because he is one of the good ones. Always was and always will be.
When I close my eyes and picture my kiddos, on the one hand the realist side of me cringes, knowing that the world can be a scary place. But another part of me knows that there are adventures awaiting them, like their own trips to Africa, or their chance to make a difference in someone’s life.
Maybe I have a student in my class who will be inspired to go on and do great things for others. Maybe I will have a student who some day finds a cure for the same disease that will take my friend.
That’s what I love about kids and teaching. We have the chance to look into the eyes of our students and not only see potential, but to cultivate a love of learning and passion for life that come with a sense of optimism that the world can be better and they can strive for greatness.
My friend is entering the next phase of his battle. Even though I am scared, I want to share his compassion, kindness, and enduring spirit with my students, so that they know that even in a world of scary things, there is always room for a kind heart and zest for life.