I can’t remember the name of my own third angel.
Soon after I married Adventure Guy, I found myself living in small-town Oklahoma. I had not planned this. While I busily prepared for our wedding and looked forward to our honeymoon, I also diligently completed applications for teaching positions in Houston, Texas, where Adventure Guy would be transferred upon the completion of his year-long training program. The program ended a week before our wedding, giving Adventure Guy his first official vacation time and providing plenty of time once we’d moved for me to prepare for beginning work in August.
I couldn’t wait to walk into my own classroom in the fall. My student-teaching experience had just whetted my appetite for my chosen career. I loved working with high school students. Better yet, they seemed to love working with me.
When the phone rang two weeks before the wedding, it wasn’t a school principal calling with a job offer. Instead, Adventure Guy said, “I don’t know how to tell you this, but I’m not being transferred. They’ve just told us our training group has to stay here to do our first engineering projects.” It may have been the only true moment when I wanted to bang the phone against the table and say, “I’m sorry. I. can’t. hear. you.”
But the news didn’t go away. Instead of moving to the big city, I arrived in Ponca City, Oklahoma, home to Conoco and not much else. Instead of literally hundreds of high schools with potential need for an inexperienced English or history teacher, there was one high school and two middle schools. None of which would hire me, considering it was July, and I was not in possession of an Oklahoma teaching license.
Each year when I planned my high school courses, my father would ask, “When are you going to take typing?” I took this question as an affront to my academic abilities. After all, why would I need to type? I was never going to be a secretary. Let’s just say it’s a good thing I listened to him. Well, that and the fact that academic ability or not, I’m an excellent typist.
Instead of walking into a classroom of my very own, for my first job after college I walked into a cubicle at a local attorney’s office. I first temped during one of the secretary’s maternity leaves and then moved up in the world to a legal assistant position the firm kindly created for me once the maternity leave job ended.
I met some great people and kept myself busy. I especially needed the busy part when Adventure Guy’s engineering project turned out to be out-of-town–a result that left me not only living in a small town where I couldn’t teach but also living there alone Monday through Friday.
One day while perusing the local paper during my lunch break, I spotted an ad looking for literacy volunteers. Remember the keeping busy part? I quickly phoned the number listed and signed myself up for training. After a couple of sessions, I found myself not only trained but with my very first tutoring subject–a woman who’d found herself even more displaced than I had. Her husband also worked for the company, having come all the way from Asia to do so. Like me, she found herself living somewhere she’d never expected. Unlike me, she didn’t speak English.
In the book, The Third Angel, one of the characters, Frieda, describes the concept.
You think you’re doing him a kindness. You think you’re the one taking care of him, while all the while, he’s the one who’s saving your life.
In many ways, the time I devoted to volunteering as a literacy tutor did me far more good than it did my students. After a day of transcribing letters or typing pleadings, I’d grab a quick dinner and then become the person I wanted to be: a teacher. I loved planning the lessons and figuring out ways to get the point across. When I learned that my first student requested me because she’d been impressed with the way I worked with her when she volunteered as a student Guinea pig during training, it reassured me that this time in my life represented only a bit of a detour in the route toward my own classroom. Working with her took me away from my lonely apartment, away from my worries about not living up to my potential, away from the fact that I lived a long way away from home and knew almost no one. Better yet, it made me a real teacher.
And it was that real teacher who walked into her very first classroom the next August. We’d been transferred into Houston, just nine months later than expected. And, while as hard as I’ve tried I can’t remember her name, I’ll always be grateful to my third angel for giving me the confidence to keep pushing toward my goal and for seeing me as the person I wanted to be.
Who is your third angel?