I Asked My Daughter What Her New Teacher Was Like. Her Response Brought Me to My Knees.
My husband got the details mixed up (as husbands often do) on Joal’s prayer vigil — he thought it was at the hospital. It wasn’t. That mixup resulted in Rick and I awkwardly standing in the waiting room in a hive of Joal’s closest friends and family.
An aunt graciously approached us after a while. She chatted with us about the grim situation and developments. She then introduced us to Joal’s father, who, after a few minutes, went and got Joal’s mother. We four strangers huddled together and wept.
This is the story I shared with them…
My daughter, Allie, is special. She’s not your average child. Allie had a rough go in her first years of life. She’s had over 10 surgeries and continues to struggle with physical, cognitive, emotional and behavioral issues. These issues are no longer debilitating, but they profoundly affect Allie’s social interactions.
Last year, shortly after Allie started in Mr. Stanfield’s class, I asked the typical question, “How do you like your teacher? ” Her response brought me to my knees. “Mom! He talks to me! He’s so funny.” It was clear that Allie had figured out that some people, unsure of how to approach her social awkwardness, simply avoid engaging with her. But not Mr. Stanfield! He actively drew her out and made her feel a part of the class. He made a special effort to call on Allie (knowing her answers weren’t always right or appropriate). He would have her run papers to the office for him during the day, making her feel privileged. As the year progressed, we got updates on Mr. Stanfield and his frequent shenanigans. Allie beamed when she told the stories, knowing she was a full compatriot in a very special group – Mr. Stanfield’s class.
Even after the school year ended, Mr. Stanfield’s compassion for his students continued. Tragedy struck our community this summer when one of his student’s parents passed away. Joal organized a pool party so the grieving student could have a fun afternoon with his classmates. Every. Single. Student. Showed up. The highlight of the afternoon was the balloon fight against Mr. Stanfield. I can picture it in my mind, and it makes me smile.
Joal could see my daughter’s true worth through his eyes of love. He showered her with kindness, compassion and love. Through him, Allie learned that she’s worthy of acceptance, love and respect. Really. Not empty platitudes from our family or an invisible man in the sky. She witnessed it firsthand from someone she valued and respected. Joal’s kindness changed the trajectory of my daughter’s life and, undoubtedly, of many other lives.
Back at the hospital, as we all wrapped our arms around each other, Joal’s mom cried out, as every mother would, “Dear Lord, don’t take Joal from us! His work is not done yet! Please don’t take him!”
Gloria, you’re right. Joal’s work is not done. As long as my Allie is here, Joal’s work will continue through her. Our family will strive to see the world through eyes of love, show kindness to all and make our world a better place, just like Mr. Stanfield taught us.
With a heart full of gratitude, we’re sending much love and peace to Joal’s family, friends, colleagues, and community.
Susan and Rick Scott
Update: Sadly, Joal Stanfield died on August 27, 2014 at the age of 35.
This post originally appeared on Tuesday’s Perspective.