My fourth grade classroom was on the top floor of a century-old, brick elementary school, since demolished. My teacher, Mrs. C., was a middle-aged woman with a frizzy perm whom I remember little of, except for this incident, which will stay with me forever.
The school implemented a ‘Gifted and Talented Program’ that year and by some process chose a few students who would leave regular classroom time, go with a special teacher from the district, and work on puzzles and word games and other mental gymnastics to utilize and ripen those ‘gifted’ brains.
One day, Mrs. C gave the class some busy work and called out a handful of names, mine included, and asked us to go with her into the hallway. Here we stood in a circle while she enthusiastically explained we’d been chosen for the Gifted and Talented program, and we should be very proud. It would be additional schoolwork on top of our already heavy fourth-grade workload, she warned, but with a blanket statement of praise explained she knew we could do it.
I loved school, got good grades and great test scores, and when Mrs. C explained the program, I felt eager and happy.
I swelled with pride. I stood with my gangly limbs, my long stringy hair and thick plastic glasses and all of a sudden felt older, confident, excited. I couldn’t wait to tell my mom and dad.
Mrs. C dismissed us from the hallway and we started to file back into the classroom, chattering under our breath.
“Alana,” Mrs. C, whispered, “I’d like to talk with you a minute.”
She closed the door behind the other children so we were alone in the hallway. Maybe she wanted me to be in charge of the group in some way? Why was I being singled out?
And then, Mrs. C let out a breath and told me she was…..concerned…..that my name had been on the Gifted and Talented list. She held reservations about whether or not I could keep up with other students in the group. She told me she was concerned about me doing additional work and expressed it may be too hard for me. She asked if I really wanted to do it.
I stood, dumbfounded. My pride extinguished, my confidence deflated. My teacher didn’t want me to do it. She didn’t think I could.
The memory of the disappointment in the pit of my stomach is as vivid as the day this happened. I stammered that I was certain I could handle it, and I did. But each time I went with the Gifted and Talented group, I felt somehow less than, like I wasn’t really meant to be there.
My teacher’s words really hurt me. They affected how I went forward with the program.
Nevertheless, I did it. And I kept my grades up. And when I ‘graduated’ from fifth grade a year later, it was with some kind of presidential academic award ‘signed’ by President Bill Clinton, as well as the title of co-Class President.
Ten years later and a continent away, I lay on my boyfriend’s couch by the light of a golden IKEA lamp. The Scottish autumn made the nights draw in quickly, and we lounged in the near-dark and chatted, Alex in his soft Edinburgh brogue and me in my neutral Colorado accent. Long, mundane chats were the first thing we did when we met up at the end of the day. He’d rest on his back and I’d lay sprawled out across him, my elbows near his ears and our faces inches from each other. I’d keep brushing my hair off his face as we laughed and talked about everything, anything. But this day was different, somehow. Alex seemed jittery, and more intense.
He sat me up so I was half on his lap and he sat up, too, growing serious. I was scared to know what was coming, taking in his nervousness. We knew I only had six months in Scotland, and we’d just take it easy and date, but everything between us seemed to move quickly, intensely.
“I have to tell you something,” he said breathlessly. “And you don’t have to answer me, it’s fine. But…..I love you.”
The world was spinning. I was scared to respond. The way his face lit up as he looked at me, the gentle grip he held around my waist, the way I felt his chest heaving against mine from my spot on his lap. I took it all in, and I thought of Colorado. Of home. How I’d be leaving in a few short months.
“I……I can’t tell you I love you,” I said, terrified. Terrified I did love him, terrified I didn’t. Mostly, terrified of leaving him and going back to a country that didn’t have Alex.
A week or so later- time never seemed to matter with Alex – we were walking across the cobblestones to see Love, Actually at the movie theater. We were holding hands, walking in step, practically bouncing with the glee of young love.
I let go of his hand outside the theater, turned to face him with a rush of traffic behind me, and blurted out, “I have to tell you, I love you too.”
I didn’t want to love Alex, but I couldn’t help it. I was careless with my heart, knowing we came from different worlds.
Nevertheless, I did it. I let myself love him. And we worked so hard to keep ourselves in the same country. This week is our eleventh wedding anniversary, but in those eleven years I’ve had five different British visas and he, two different American ones.
Some love is measured in years, some love is measured through dedication to paperwork.
When my mother was pregnant with me, she grew very ill. Her family was told she may not make it. Or that I would be born handicapped. The odds were against us.
Nevertheless, we’re both still here. And I was born healthy.
The list could go on. The stories could continue.
I believe everyone has a nevertheless experience or two, but the good news is, as long as you’re alive, there is ample opportunity for more.
We don’t need to be BECAUSE people, or DUE TO people, or IF ONLY people.
We can choose to be NEVERTHELESS people.
I saw this written on a gym mirror the other week: Our circumstances don’t determine our lives. Our actions do.
I believe sometimes, we are a victim of circumstance. It’s evident plenty of people get a leg up where others don’t. Not all things are equal or equitable as they should be. Circumstances dictate some things. They may dictate our past.
But they don’t need to dictate our future.
Even if something seems hard, do it anyway.
If a dozen obstacles stand in your way, adopt a nevertheless attitude and work through the obstacles one by one.
Sometimes it’s easy to get hung up on SHOULDS.
I know I do.
The expectations I have of others and myself leave a lot of undone SHOULDS.
But I say, even though this SHOULD happen, it’s not, and so….. nevertheless gosh darn it.
There is so much power in our actions.
And only we get to decide what our actions will be.
(Our reactions, too.)
Our choices determine our destiny.
But when circumstances step in….
May the odds be ever in your favor.
We can say nevertheless, I did it.