Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Not a Wave, But Part of the Ocean

In my sophomore English class, we're reading Tuesdays with Morrie.  In one anecdote, Morrie recounts a story of a little wave who was terrified he'd meet his end once he crashed into the shore.  He was calmed by the notion that he was not a wave, but part of the ocean.  Perspective is everything.

Teachers often feel like those waves, I'm afraid.  We spend a year with our kids.  We love them and coax them and nudge them.  But it's ultimately the student's choice whether he/she chooses to continue the relationship when the final bell rings.  I've had the same feeling that wave experienced on more than one occasion: when I reached the shore -- the student finished the class and went out into the world -- my influence was spray against the sand.  I'd cease to have the influence I did as a wave.

But then I'm reminded of the power that comes with being part of the ocean.  Like bodies of water, we are deep, complex,  powerful, and rich.  And our students often return to us, seeking wisdom or guidance.  They return to invite us to celebrate what they've accomplished.

A few days ago one of those students returned.  I was sure that when he left school I'd be nothing more than a passing memory, an often too-intense, demanding teacher he was forced to endure, the class merely a hoop through which he must jump.  But he reached out to let me know he just declared an English minor. That he was drawn to writing because of me. He asked if I'd be interested in reading some of his work.  He thanked me, three years later, out of the blue.  And in those moments, I'm grateful to be more than a wave.

Today, by happenstance, his father and I crossed paths.  His father is an enormously sweet man who adores his children.  I asked them once if he cries a lot.  They were taken aback -- they rarely see him cry.  But he's cried in almost every interaction I've had with him.  He's so proud of his kids and so incredibly grateful to anyone who does anything to serve them, tears can't help but spill forth.  He expressed his gratitude for me.  He was so kind.  I'm not sure parents are aware that they are both waves and oceans for us as well.

There are many people in our lives who propel and inspire us, who meet us when we need them most. But the beauty is that after the swell of the motion, we can still return.  The wave is powerful, but the ocean is steady, constant.  It's a tremendous privilege to be both.

Haley Moehlis is serving in her 12th year as an English teacher in Des Moines, Iowa.  She is the mother of three boys, loves nature, words, and all things crafty.  She's taken the plunge to embark on her first slice of Life writing challenge. 


  1. Oh, I love this. Those kids who come back, who let us know later that we made a difference, I live for those. And now that you have written, you'll have this memory forever!

  2. This is a lovely post - with so many powerful elements. Your description of the dad and his pride made me cry; and your metaphor with the ocean was brilliant. Thanks for sharing. Congratulations on joining the challenge.

  3. This is such a beautiful post, Haley. You have received a teacher's most greatest gift - the knowing that you have influenced in a such a way as to shape a student's future calling. My heart filled right up for you. And, I teared up when I read about his father being oh so proud. I saw my own father in your description. Thank you for your beautiful words. I am looking forward to reading more of your journey this month. :-)

  4. I had a moment like this the other day, in a very coincidental way. It's these moments that I hang on to for the rough days.

  5. I love when former students come back to chat. And when parents stop us in the grocery store to thank us. And your final words of this slice are so powerful: "The wave is powerful, but the ocean is steady, constant. It's a tremendous privilege to be both." Welcome to slicing!

  6. What a moving slice. It really showed the influence of teachers, of the power that wave has. Thank you for sharing.