‘Proud of you’

I got a note from my second grade teacher yesterday.

It’s funny how people emerge from the past like specters, and just a few sentences can transport you back to a different time. In my case, that would be 1992 — and I would be a boisterous 7-year-old with flowing curls just discovering books. I’d always loved being read to, and my parents’ penchant for storytime was a favorite pastime. Someone was always reading in my house.

Mrs. Brown was the first teacher to notice I loved to write — and to encourage that interest. I distinctly remember showing her a story I crafted about Carrot the bunny and his bunny family, and Mrs. Brown’s kind expression as she read my work and offered some helpful tips. “After someone is speaking, you don’t always have to say ‘he said,'” she explained, indicating a string of dialogue that probably went something like this:

“I’m going to the store,” Carrot said.
“Don’t go alone,” Mama said.
“I won’t — I’ll take Brother,” he said.
“Be back by dinner,” she said.

Pure poetry, I know. The greats reveal their genius early.

I have many memories from Mrs. Brown’s classroom, which was close to the “little kids'” recess spot on the far side of the school. That class of 25 or 30 kids was where I first met Daniel, the kid on whom I nursed a wicked crush and sent lovey-dovey Valentine cards. It was where I started to understand math and history, and when I realized I could write stories like the ones I found in books.

Mrs. Brown was the first teacher to encourage my writing, telling my parents that she thought I had talent. Twenty years after Carrot the bunny, she reads my biweekly columns in the local paper — and she wrote me a note to tell me so. The entire message is very sweet, but the best part comes at the end: “I am proud of you.”

How simple those words are.

How powerful those words are.

As a kid (and teen), I idolized my teachers. I can vividly recall every one of them, remembering their lessons and soothing voices and homework help. Each was special in their own way, and it’s so crazy to think of them now — these women (and a few men) I put on pedestals, more than mere mortals who could do no wrong through the bright lens of my childhood.

Knowing Mrs. Brown is reading the work of her former pupil — me — and remembering the kid I once was, the kid I still am inside, makes me extraordinarily happy. I’ve heard from my elementary school librarian (she was so awesome!), my first grade teacher, my beloved gym teacher. I smile uncontrollably every time, remembering the sunny days spent in their classrooms and on the playground. I had a really, really happy childhood — probably a better one than most. I was too young to realize that.

I’m glad I was too young to realize that.

Pride is such a powerful emotion. All I’ve ever wanted was to make my family proud, my teachers proud. My sister. My boyfriend. My friends. And someday, some shiny day, my children.

Hearing from Mrs. Brown gave me an opportunity to do what we rarely think to do: thank her. Remembering the pride I felt when she read my Carrot story aloud still fills me with warmth. She’s the first teacher to put books in my hand; she’s the one who encouraged me to write crazy stories, then rewarded that creativity with kindness instead of dismissal. I’ve never thought to reach out to her. But now I have.

It takes just a moment to say a kind word, to forge or reform a connection. The simplest word from you can change the trajectory of someone’s day, of someone’s week. Maybe someone’s life. If you have a moment, thank someone who has helped you along the way. I’ve never regretted it.

State of the postcard

Since joining Postcrossing, an international postcard-swapping project, my mailbox has been overflowing with love. Postcards in all shapes and sizes have found me at my desk in Maryland, where my coworker Kelly brings in the daily mail.

“Bam!” she shouts each morning, holding my coveted cards out to me. We read them together and admire the photos, often chatting about the differences in the cultures between the sender and myself, one American writer.

Since last August, when I sent my first postcard to Finland, I’ve sent 111 cards to Postcrossing members in 37 countries — and received more than 100 in return. They come from Turkey, South Korea, Ireland, Ukraine . . . and dozens of other places.

And each carries just a little piece of the sender. While I love the photos, what I love best is actually reading the words scrawled on each. The handwriting completely fascinates me: curly; somber; precise; delicate. I love learning about the lives of people in far-flung places — places I’ve never seen and may never see. Members usually have a short “about me” section on their profile, and I can’t count the number of times I read about someone else’s interests and think, “Hey! Me too!”

People are readers. And writers. They’re photographers and music lovers and daughters. They’re parents and boyfriends; travelers and dreamers. They have ambitions. And so many of them tell you about their dreams — things that might be easier to share with me, a stranger, than someone they love (see final message below).

There’s a sort of magic through the shared experience — through knowing that the card in my hand, bent at the corners, once sat on the table or desk or lap of someone in a foreign nation. Someone wrote it out, forming letters meant only for me. And these cards traversed the globe to land right in my hands in America.

Though the hobby isn’t exactly “cheap,” it’s brought me so much joy. The cost of a postcard and international stamp (98 cents) doesn’t bother me nearly as much as the idea of never seeing brightly-colored notes in my mailbox again.

Some recent postcard messages:

“Hi! I’m 15 years old student from Finland. I was surprised, because my interests are exactly the same as yours: I love cooking, photographing and reading! But now I haven’t taken many photos, because it’s sooo cold outside! (about -29 degrees C). I like to take pictures of animals, nature, flowers, butterflies, etc. Take care!” — Finland

“Czeso! Hello! My name’s [name], I’m 21 and I live in Poland. I’m a student of economic. I have an exam tomorrow so I should learn but you know . . . I’m too tired of all these exams. Fortunately, exams period finish in two weeks. 🙂 I’d love to visit USA (esp. NYC) — It’s my biggest dream! And my favorite book’s Dear John by N. Sparks! Take care.” — Poland

“Hello Megan! I’m also a 25-years-old person! But I work as a geography teacher! I love traveling — have been to the U.S.A. one time — Hawaii! This postcard that I want to share with you is my working school! It’s issued by my school because of student’s graduation ceremony. I hope you will like the design. Have a nice day!” — Taiwan

“Dear Megan, Hello! Isn’t this road just amazing? Every time I look at this card I feel the urge to go there — to get in my car and drive — to escape . . . today more than most days. I’m a graduate student in year three of an endless (or so it seems) PhD program at [school]. I absolutely love it. The problem, you may ask? Well, I’m driving myself crazy with a long-distance relationship to a man I love more than my studies. So I want out. I can’t take it anymore. I need to leave [city] and get myself “home” — back where I belong. Why can’t life just be . . . easy?” — USA