The Teacher

Sandy almost wished she was not required to wear her helmet. The warm June breeze would feel good flowing through her hair as she rode home on her motor scooter. She was happy. Today, her whole world seemed right to her. Last week she had led the procession through graduation exercises. When she finished the quarter for which she had just registered, she would receive her Associate of Arts Degree, Magna cum laude. And she had already been accepted by David Lipscomb College where she would pursue her Bachelor's Degree, and perhaps even her Master's. After nearly forty-four years, a seemingly impossible dream of teaching was becoming a reality.

The desire to become a teacher had taken root when Sandy was seven. She had been in an orphanage several months. As usual, that morning the children were scattered out by two's and three's along the several blocks to the school. Sandy preferred to walk alone. She liked to think about things. But this morning was different. There was something about the little girl she had just passed. Sandy turned and went back. The girl was dragging -- really dragging her feet -- making every step last as long as possible.

As they talked, Sandy learned that the girl was terrified of crossing streets. Having been raised in Los Angeles, Sandy had known how to read signals and observe traffic almost by the time she could walk. When they got to the first crossing, Sandy even had to help the girl off the curb. As she helped, she also explained the signals, and how important it was to look both ways before crossing. The next street was easier. Then their steps quickened. By the time they reached school, the girl was eagerly explaining to Sandy how to cross safely!

But the climax came that afternoon. The girl was walking with a group a little ahead of Sandy. One girl in the group started to cross before the light changed. The girl whom Sandy had taught held her back and began explaining the proper way to cross! It was a thrill to Sandy. She had done her job well. And she knew she must teach.

However, the realities of life had forced Sandy to lay aside her dream. Then shortly after her husband's death nearly three years before, she had become acquainted with a minister who thought in terms of possibilities, rather than impossibilities. At his encouragement, she had completed her high school studies. Then at her request he had begun teaching her the Koine Greek of the New Testament. As he taught, he also taught her how to meet the challenges of life. Then an opportunity had come for her to attend the local community college. It had been thirty two years since she had sat in a classroom. She was hesitant. But with his encouragement she entered. And now her dream was on its way to becoming a reality.

Sandy fastened the strap securely under her chin and began the five mile trip home. It was good to be alive. "You are in St. Thomas Hospital in Nashville," the voice said. "You have been in an accident." "Apparently your helmet came off," the voice continued. "Your skull has been fractured." "And", the voice went on enumerating, "both of your legs have been broken. You have broken ribs and a punctured lung. The bones of your left hand have been broken." Sandy was left-handed! "And," the voice continued, "two of your vertebrae are cracked. Probably you were thrown forward, then backward. Your spinal cord is severed." Her world stood still.... "You will be permanently paralyzed from your chest down."

"Sandra," her teacher friend told her, "You have climbed mountains before by doing what you can, where you are, with what you have. Now God will enable you to climb another mountain by doing what you can't, where you are not, with what you do not have. Peter could not walk on water, but he did. Jesus, on the cross, did more for the world than any other off the cross. So you may be able to do more to help and inspire mankind, on this cross, or in a wheelchair as you learn and teach than you could walking around on two good legs."

Sandy believed him. Then came the infection in the lining of her heart. "Crash cart, room 226, stat!" came the voice over the intercom. That was her room! But even eight weeks in the hospital did not diminish her determination to continue her education and to become a teacher.

But she cried all night her first night in the nursing home. Within a few days she began physical therapy. Therapy was intense and rigorous. But every effort, no matter how feeble, met with approval. Sometimes, though, it seemed to Sandy that she progressed one inch forward and two inches backwards. When not in therapy, she was free to pursue her own interests. While in college she had begun writing, and some of her work had been published. She wrote an article on being in control of one's own life. It was quickly published. About the same time, her hometown newspaper did a feature story on her. After months of therapy she had finally come to the point of being able to transfer from her chair to the mat. Then while practicing transfers she fell -- on concrete.

She had broken her fall with her left hand. Her hand was not broken. But it was some time before she was allowed to use it in transferring. The fall made Sandy do some serious thinking. Would she ever reach the point where she could live alone? And, if she did, would it be wise? Would not she be imposing too great a burden on her friends? Other paraplegics had been held up to her as examples, but on investigating, Sandy found that each either had a family, or at least part-time help. She would have neither.

There were two paraplegics in the nursing home. Elizabeth had her spinal cord severed at the same point as Sandy's. She had been in the nursing home over thirty years. She could not even bother to dress herself. Nor could she transfer. And there was Don. He, too, was injured as she. And he was helpless. He had been there eight years. Was she not a fool for thinking she could make it on her own? She began to get despondent. And remembering the words which she had written, Sandy became even more despondent. She could write words, but she could not live by her own words!

"Whether you ever reach the point where you can live alone," admonished the therapist, "will depend on you." And Sandy knew he spoke truth. Other things began to come into her consideration. Most of the patients were very elderly. Would she possibly have to spend thirty years or more here? And what about those who cared about her? Would not she be letting them down if she gave up without trying further? She could not give up. She might not make it. But she was not going to give up.

Months passed. To qualify for Medicaid, Sandy had to sell her home. The money she received from her own life insurance for loss of the use of her legs had to go on medical expenses. Then she learned that the drunken driver who had rammed her motor scooter from behind only got a three year sentence, and would probably serve less than one year. She faced a lifetime sentence in a wheelchair. She had already lost everything . Her hopes and dreams, her home, and almost her life. Now this! Bitterly, she slammed the trapeze bar with a left hook. Life was unfair! She had been refused Medicaid again -- this time because of a trust fund her church had established for her.

Sandy knew she was getting into deep water, and she knew she needed help. But she was ashamed to call home. Surely she could work this out by herself. But as the evening wore on, she knew she had better call someone. Thoughts of suicide were already venturing into her mind. It was late, but the local minister stayed until she calmed down. Two elders from her home congregation came the next day. So did her teacher friend. She knew they had been called. But they did not rebuke her. They cared. They were there to help. They were there because they loved her. And together they found a solution. Her world was right again. And her determination was renewed.

Finally the day arrived! It was moving day! A day which Sandy had thought might never come. She was home in her new apartment. She adjusted more quickly to independent living than anyone had anticipated. Sandy had resumed her studies while in the nursing home. Shortly after returning home she had received her degree. Now there was a new class for which she registered.

The assignment called for her to write two short stories. Sandy had chosen to write from her own personal experience. The first had been submitted. Now she was working on the second. "Tell your readers," instructed her professor, "why you were so determined to leave the nursing home." She really had intended to write about some characters and incidents which took place. And she was still free to do so. But his suggestion made her stop and think. Why was she so determined to leave? She knew she could serve God wherever she might be. She knew those who loved her would not be disappointed in her if she had chosen to stay, even after she was capable of leaving. And she knew she was taking a very big risk. But she still had been determined to leave. Why?

As Sandy pondered the question, her understanding began to be opened. Crossing a street can be a challenge in the life of a child. Because Sandy had early learned to meet that challenge, she had been able to teach another through word and example. She had done more than just teach a child to cross a street safely. She had taught her to meet the challenges of life. And now through her writing and through her example of determination she would teach others to meet the challenges in their lives.

God had enabled her to climb another mountain! She had become the teacher she had dreamed of becoming! The textbooks from which she taught were the eternal truths of God, written both in the Bible and in the universe, and the examples of her own life. Her classroom was the hearts and minds of men. And her students were scattered throughout the world. For already those who had seen her life and read her words, were using them to teach others -- even in other nations! The encouragement she had received from those who had heard about her efforts to fight victoriously in the battles of life, including a personal note from Nancy Reagan in the White House, would help her to encourage them to do the same in their battles.

Look! Is not that another mountain out yonder? And is not that a Doctorate in Languages and Linguistics at the peak? What challenges will be along the way?

Sandra F. Cobble

Published in The Old Paths Archive