The beginning of Carolyn and I : Finding a friend and mentor through new life stages

By Marina Morrison

It’s inevitable to become affected by the rise and fall of what is going around us and inside us. Sometimes I find myself getting out of bed with ease, other days I am wondering why there is any point. Many times last year I asked myself what meaning there is in the world and the questions didn’t stop: why am I here? Why do I feel so empty? I’ll never be the person I want to be, so why even try.  I didn’t care what happened to me and struggled to bring myself to eat, shower and leave my room for much of the term. I was empty and lost and was slowly losing the desire to help myself find meaning and contentment.

Allow me to take you back to June 2019, the month I graduated from high school. The last day was met with many goodbyes and attempts to remember every classroom I’d been in, the unique squeak of the main hall upstairs with flat shoes. My English teacher, Carolyn, retiring the same month, passed on her email so we could keep in touch. I was in Carolyn’s grade 11 English class and I thoroughly enjoyed writing poetry, and a specific highlight  was reading Cattle Car Complex by Thane Osenbaum and Marionettes, Inc. by Ray Bradbury. These stories made for a poignant and vunerable discussion. 

 My first semester of university at UBC started September 2019. It was this same week one year ago that I was low, very low. Last Friday I could not remember how low I was, but she did. It was hard to look back at part of the email today to remind myself: 

“The thing is, people here are all friendly, and no one has been unkind to me, I just never thought I could feel more lonely than I did in high school…I’ve realized that when you are struggling and having a rough time, things just don’t feel good. Unfortunately, I can’t fully appreciate this beautiful situation I have been given when I just feel so empty. I do not write this for sympathy, I just feel compelled to chat to someone I trust.”

This was the first time I had been in touch with my high school teacher since June 2019. It was unlike me to send out an email like this, but I think at the time, I didn’t know what else to do. Fortunately, I got the best outcome I could ask for — she responded. Not only did she respond, but she also gave me her encouragement, wisdom, kindness and a date in the near future to visit me on campus. Our first visit brought about a visit full of laughter, a trip to the bookstore, snacks, the creation of inside jokes (something about dolphins and knitting??), a walk and a much needed catch up on each other’s happenings. I wonder if I would have emailed her if I hadn’t been feeling so low that early November evening? Maybe I would have sent her a holiday greeting or asked to have a snow walk in mid December. What I do know is that my vulnerability to email during a time of struggle and her kindness to respond and reach out opened a new, and I hope, lasting friendship. 

In my first email to Carolyn in November I shared my favorite morning breakfast spot on UBC campus where I’d sit alone and often wonder, reflect and sit in the quiet. There are many places on campus to sit and reflect, and allow your mind to wander.

In my first email to Carolyn in November I shared my favorite morning breakfast spot on UBC campus where I’d sit alone and often wonder, reflect and sit in the quiet. There are many places on campus to sit and reflect, and allow your mind to wander.

While another visit in March 2020 was planned, COVID-19 concerns caused us to stick to texting and emailing. This was all right as I LOVE a good email; many paragraphs, full of detail, images and exclamation marks… definitely a smiley face or three. I was much happier second term. I was able to share this with Carolyn, and I enjoyed hearing about her adventures and beautiful photography skills I got to see during our first visit. While we continued to pass on emails and texts during different periods of the spring and summer, a distanced-in person was soon to be determined! 

 The second planned meetup finally happened after months of communicating. The usual pleasantries and greetings were not exchanged. I don’t remember saying hello; I think it was more a quick “yay!” and a jump right into conversation like we had never parted. We talked about Halloween, baking, art classes, nature, and past school memories. Did you know that Carolyn took a class in Photography as a Fine Art last year? She is also taking more classes online this year, too. I hope to be a lifelong learner like she is. I can learn much from her, although I don’t think I could master her laugh–it’s so wonderful and infectious. I wish I could share it with you and let it bring a smile to your face as it always does for me. She even surprised me with a gift, one a Visual Arts student or any art lover could never fail to enjoy: an Anywhere Art Guide. I promised to keep it in my bag so that I could take out a card and appreciate art wherever I may be.

Here it is! A pocket sized Art Guide waiting to be used.

Here it is! A pocket sized Art Guide waiting to be used.

Another highlight of the visit was jumping in the biggest pile of leaves I have ever seen. No, it was not just me; in fact, I think it was Carolyn’s idea to start greeting the leaves in such a way. What started as a shuffle in a small gathering of leaves… turned into getting stuck together in a dense, crisp fall leaf and grass clippings combo. How wild is it to think that my previous English teacher would be jumping in leaf piles and walking through a community garden with me?? I tend to smile quite wide as I am reminded of it.

The leaf pile described above!! The picture doesn’t fully show how big it was, it really was magical!

The leaf pile described above!! The picture doesn’t fully show how big it was, it really was magical!

It was wondrous and a smile filled Friday afternoon. I haven’t stopped talking about it with family and friends. 

During our nature walk I told Carolyn about how I still wonder about other high school teachers whom I appreciated, who have had an impact on me and who I stillthink about. I am very glad to have moved on from high school and I love university… but I often think about teachers and past peers I had connected with, even if it was ever so brief. What to do with this questioning, this curiosity, this piece of my mind taken up by them? Well, one way is to continue that wondering, hoping that they are doing okay and leaving it at that. That is understandable and valid, as it would be near impossible to reach out to every peer or teacher to send them your well wishes. 

What I learned from Carolyn that day was something that has resonated with me deeply, and maybe it will with you, too. Have you ever thought about how teachers are constantly saying goodbye? Each year brings another group of students leaving to move on, grow, change or stay the same. Teachers may never know if they made a difference in a student’s life, and are left to wonder. Carolyn reiterated how much it means for a teacher to know that they made a difference in a student’s life. I can say with confidence that I am still learning from Carolyn in a different capacity now. How exciting is that?

Second year university has been quite full on but I am doing much better than first year: Hair half brushed, paint on my neck and face, and a visit with Carolyn that is still echoing in my mind…what could be better?

Second year university has been quite full on but I am doing much better than first year: Hair half brushed, paint on my neck and face, and a visit with Carolyn that is still echoing in my mind…what could be better?

There are many other teachers who have helped prepare me for university, and some I have been able to connect with through email to explain just that in the last year. There are a few  who I will be emailing this week: my brisk outdoor walk with Carolyn reminded me of what it could mean for a teacher to receive some acknowledgement that what they are doing makes a difference.

 I would ask if you wonder about a teacher, a mentor, a positive leader in your life–an old friend? What did you learn from them, and what could you learn from them? Should you reach out? Not everyone is looking for a leaf jumping buddy, but it could be the boost they (or you both) need…some wee note to bring smiles to faces. Maybe you are looking for someone to talk to like I was last year. I look at this new relationship with Carolyn and am immersed with gratitude, warmth, belonging and peace. It is a truly wonderful feeling.

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