by Barbara Richardson
I went to public school in the middle part of Ohio, where Amish, Quakers, Mennonites and other free-thinking peoples settled. When the law was passed that said we could not pray in school my teachers just ignored it and we went on saying the “Lord’s Prayer” every morning.
My 12th grade English teacher was named Sylvia N. She was also the school librarian and I worked one or more periods a week with her sorting and checking out books and having conversations. The library was also a study hall option and I spent time there discovering the world in books. I especially remember the big art books.
One Monday morning we were told that three boys had been in a bad car accident, one had died and two were in the hospital. We were excused from class if we wanted to go to the library and gather with friends. Mrs. N. softly read from the Bible and gently led us in a conversation about the fact that even though we felt helpless we could do something for them by praying.
In English class we did the usual book reports and a research paper but one block of six weeks was very special. Mrs. N. read poetry to us. She said we could follow along in our textbook or just listen, even put our head down and close our eyes – we were free and could just take in the beauty of the poetry. We thought she was brave to stand in front of the class and read to us. As we got closer to a poem called, “Silvia” we looked at each other, smiling, and couldn’t wait to see how she would read that one. We got close but she stopped and we had to wait another day. The next day we knew it was coming but she read the one before it, and then, turning slightly pink, began the one after it. She was too shy to read it. However, our chorus teacher let us sing a Madrigal written for that poem, from Two Gentlemen of Verona by Shakespeare, “Who is Silvia, what is she, that all our swains commend her?” We did not throw garlands down at her feet, but we were very happy to be able to thank her with the Madrigal!
Mrs. N. gave us joy in the beauty of poetry, she also taught us how to be human and meet life and its challenges. At our 25th reunion I was able to talk with Mrs. N. and let her know that the love of poetry she helped me develop has, I hope, gone on to inspire other students through my work as a Waldorf teacher and eurythmist.