I bit my lip, squared my shoulders, and walked into class, smiling as best as I could. I stood at the podium and started to unpack my stuff. One student wanted to make an announcement about the Writing Center, and as she spoke to the class I set up my PowerPoint presentation on Pride and Prejudice. Then she sat down and the class looked at me expectantly.
“I ….” I hesitated. I tried again. “I … I’ve been having kind of a hard time and so ….” I could feel my face crumpling but I was determined to press on “… and so I decided to bake something … because … because I like baking … and I thought you might like these …. they’re called flapjacks. They’re not pancakes,” I added hastily, “what you call flapjacks—they’re like oatmeal cookies … and they’re really good.
A sound emanated from the assembled students, something half way between a sigh and an awww, and I busied myself getting out the two big tupperwares and passing them around.
I spoke about the Regency against the pleasant background noise of munching and rustling wax paper.
After a while I even felt like eating a flapjack.
It lifted my spirits to find that my students could successfully pick out which parts of a passage from Pride and Prejudice were in free indirect discourse. It cheered me to discover that they could articulate that what makes Elizabeth Bennet feel “relatable” to them is how she finds ways to express resistance and creativity in a world that is so restrictive and codified.
At the end of class the students filed out shyly, thanking me for the cookies. “I’m glad you liked them!” I said, and I walked out of class feeling better than when I walked in.
As I walked to the parking lot I heard myself being hailed, “Sarah!” and pivoted. It was one of my students. She was running and breathing heavily. “First, sorry for calling you Sarah,” she panted.
She bent over, winded, “Oof, I’ve been trying to catch up with you,” she exclaimed.
I wondered what was so urgent.
She caught her breath.
“You mentioned that you were having a hard time and … and it just made me want to tell you,” she paused, panting again, “sorry, I’m still out of breath, and this is also just off the top of my head … It made me want to tell you that I really value everything you put into this class. It’s meant so much to me to be able to work with you. And … I don’t know if this helps to hear this, but I just wanted you to know how much you’re appreciated. Not just by me. All of us in the class—we all love you.”
I have got to figure out a way to stop from crying whenever people are kind to me.
I told her how much it meant to me that she would say that, more than I could say, and especially, I added, because I knew that she had experienced a bereavement, the death of a close friend, the previous quarter, and so she knew keenly what it is like to struggle to keep going when you’re in distress.
“And …” she added, a little sheepishly, “sorry for making you emotional.”
I laughed through my tears, “Oh, that’s OK,” I said, “I’m emotional every other minute at the moment.”
“Can I give you a hug?” she asked.
I accepted it gratefully.
What kindness. What tremendous kindness. I know I’ve been extremely Eeyorish in recent days but … I do also know how lucky I am. I won the bloody lottery in almost every aspect of life. I forget that sometimes, but I remembered it yesterday.
Oh, and here’s the recipe for the flapjack. You should make it.
From the Islington Cookbook
4 oz brown sugar
4 oz butter
4 oz rolled oats
4 oz flour
2 Tbsp golden syrup (or honey)
optional: 1/2 tsp vanilla
optional: pinch of salt
Melt butter; add brown sugar and mix. Add everything else. If you’re using golden syrup, I’d strongly recommend licking the spoon. Spread on a baking tray and bake at 375 F for 10-20 minutes, until lightly browned. It will firm up as it cools. Slice and eat—or give away, if you’re feeling extremely generous. Don’t feel bad if you can’t muster the willpower.