An English Teacher’s Lesson in Happiness

Last month, I sent a letter to someone who played a profound role in shaping my life, someone I never properly thanked all those years ago when her impact was fresh. And I’m glad I did, because last week, I received a hand-written note in response from Mrs. Footz, my high school English teacher. 

I won’t reprint the letter in full, but a few things she wrote stood out to me and made me feel so grateful for taking the opportunity to reach out and thank someone who touched my life.

In her letter, she thanked me for my kind words, saying that teachers always hope they impact their students and feel “rejuvenated” when they learn they have. She may have been a tough task-master, putting us through grueling grammar lessons and having us write essay after essay in preparation for our diploma exams, but teaching was clearly never just a job to Mrs. Footz. That much was clear even to my limited 17-year-old mind.

Mrs. Footz (she will forever be Mrs. Footz to me; addressing her as Jeanette is somehow too strange to comprehend) was passionate about preparing her students for the world outside of school, and her encouragement to “keep your wits about you” before every test is something I remind myself of to this day when faced with a task that seems insurmountable.

She congratulated me on my writing success, assuring me that their was “never a doubt in (her) mind.” As someone who doubts myself almost constantly, it was reassuring to read that someone I respect – a real-life grown-up – had faith in me all along, even when I didn’t.

But the thing that touched – and surprised – me the most was her remark that my “letter sings a tone of joy.”

Joy is not often close to the surface in my life. I struggle daily with the fact that I don’t feel happy enough (and, at times, my depression wins out, and my world is very dark indeed.) But if Mrs. Footz can hear joy through a simple letter, perhaps I’m not as far from happiness as I fear. Perhaps the work I’ve been doing to embrace my life wholeheartedly, the good and the bad, is starting to pay off.

In the end, perhaps it doesn’t matter. Because right now, I feel happy that my words lifted the spirits of someone dear to me. And perhaps, at the heart of it, that’s what happiness is all about.


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