The Best Gift

I had a dream early this morning in which a voice told me I did not appreciate my job enough. It was not an indictment, simply a fact. The voice told me that today I would be reminded.

Today, my birthday, helped illustrate that cliché about the best gifts and what money cannot buy. Shortly after arriving at school, I discovered my contact lens had torn. I looked at my bloodshot eye in the mirror and wondered if I could last the whole day.

I could not.

Luckily, I had a student teacher in my first class (who baked delicious birthday cupcakes for me and the class!) who could watch the class for me, and I had a reading specialist presenting to my collaboratively-taught remediation class, so I was able to hurry home to switch contacts.

But home is now much further from school than it once was. Due to a convoluted plan involving 40 cents off per gallon of gas from my grocery store club card (and involving filling multiple tanks at once), I had intentionally run my tank down so that I had just a bit more gas than I needed to get home that day—but not enough for another round trip home, back to school, and home again.

I huffed at my luck and had to wait in line at a tiny gas station to buy the one gallon to get me to school and back. It was then that I received my first intangible gift. As I was finishing fueling, the woman in line behind me shouted to me, pointing at my car. I didn’t realize she’d read my bumper sticker.

“Hey, you!” she screamed.

I worried over what I might have done to her.

I turned.

“You’re the author. The one who wrote the corgi stories.”

“Yes.” I smiled.

“I thought so! I met you last year at a signing.”

I smiled and finished fueling.

“The story was great!” she added before I departed.

The randomness of the situation—the fact that I should have been at school and hadn’t planned on using that particular gas station—meant a serendipity that can only be interpreted as an intentional sign, a gift.

After I returned to school, I led my AP class in a series of small-group discussions. During that class, a student said, “I’ve learned and thought more in your class than in all my other classes, ever, combined.” It was the kind of epiphany which makes my day job—which I am not always appreciative of—worthwhile and rewarding. A second student told me she’d been sharing the books and concepts we’ve discussed with others. It was a student normally quiet and reserved, and prior to today I had no idea my teaching was impacting her.

I thought back to the voice in my dream this morning. I can’t help but think that the person behind the voice orchestrated it all—the coincidence of the torn contact, the low gas tank, and even the events that led each particular group to those particular discussions. I’d been in a three-week rut at school. I needed a reminder that the effort I put in each day at school and each night and morning at my writing at home is reaching others and changing lives. It was something I knew, but I’d gotten sidetracked by details and situations that are petty and irrelevant, orchestrated by people who don’t matter.

I spent the rest of my birthday with a calm serenity, with a feeling that everything would be alright, and I had only to continue on the path I know is right for me.

I know who he is, the man behind the voice, the one who reminded me—and my mother does, too—and I have to thank him today for the best gift I could have received.