Story: My Friend June
People enter our lives for various reasons. Some come in to be influenced by us; others come forward to make significant impact on our lives. June belonged to the later category. She came into my life at a time when I absolutely needed the lessons that she could bring to our friendship.
I was teaching Special Education students at the time that June and I met. She had just applied to be the teaching assistant in my classroom. June invited me over to her house for tea, as part of an informal interview. I was warmly greeted by the grandmotherly woman who opened the door, when I arrived at her cottage-like house. I was surprised and delighted when a heavy British accent came out of this short, plump woman. She seemed nervous and began to talk a mile a minute.
Our visit that day was quite delightful. June served me tea and we shared a lunch filled with interesting conversation about a wide range of topics. She was quite anxious to have the job of teaching assistant although she seemed quite nervous about what she perceived as her lack of qualifications for the position. I sensed that she would be wonderful with the emotionally disturbed students with whom I worked. June was very loving and expressed this in an outward way. The warmth and love that she generated would be perfect in working with kids who weren’t used to outward signs of love and caring. I knew after that lunch that I wanted June as my teaching assistant.
June began working in my classroom a few weeks after out luncheon. The day she started, my classroom was infused with a blast of love. It was quite amazing. As it turned out, the students and I were equal recipients of June’s generosity of spirit and her caring ways. She immediately and unofficially adopted all of the students as her kids. I think she included me in that category as well. Despite her lack of experience in the classroom, June quickly picked up the routine and fit in quite well.
The students adored June because she treated each one as if he/she was the most important person in the world. I doubt that most of these students had ever had a grandmotherly figure in their lives. At first, they weren’t sure what to make of her loving attention focused on them. However, they soon learned that June was totally committed to believing in them and helping them do well in school. She was someone who would be on their side regardless of what they did or who they were. June’s beginning interaction with these challenging students was the first real example of unconditional love that many of them had ever experienced.
One thing that I noticed right away about June was that she hugged everyone every day. Our self-defeating students thrived in June’s unconditional love. Her positive attitude quickly infused not only the classroom but the entire school. It seemed that June was always supportive of others to let them know that someone really cared for them. There wasn’t a mean bone in June’s body. She personified caring and compassion being practiced in the classroom on a daily basis.
Every morning, when I came into the classroom, I’d be greeted with a huge bear-like hug, a smile, and an impish, “good morning”. When I left in the afternoon, I’d receive another hug. I loved these positive greetings as much as the students. June proved to be very supportive in so many ways. She was an excellent teacher. She came to be loved by the staff because of her constant joy, caring for everyone, and intensity when talking about something for which she was passionate. We all loved the goodies she baked and brought to school on a regular basis.
My class and I became June’s purpose and meaning. She embraced the challenge with an impish laugh and complete sincerity. June’s self-confidence grew as she worked with this little classroom filled with people needing love. It was the perfect place for someone like June who had no outlet for her bountiful and caring ways.
I learned many important lessons from knowing June. First of all I learned about accepting someone for who they are on the inside despite what you see on the outside. June was a bit eccentric and had I not had the opportunity to get to know her through working with her, I probably wouldn’t have chosen to know her. I would have missed one of the major growing opportunities of my life had I decided not to have her as a friend.
I later saw that June had also totally accepted the students and I for who we were. A large part of my skill in working successfully with people comes from my ability to accept them wherever they are in their lives knowing that it is perfect for now. I also understand that in order to really help people grow they must start from now and work through the current issues. June planted the seeds of this skill many years ago.
One of the greatest gifts I received from knowing June was remembering to tell people how important they are to me. June’s influence was felt far and wide. She impacted more people than she would ever have imagined. I learned from June that acts of caring are signs of celebration, joy, love , support, friendship, compassion, and confirmation of the beauty of the individual soul. She taught me that love and compassion heal wounds and create new life. Accepting and loving others opens the tightest shell, breaks down the tallest wall, and lets light into the darkest space.
June taught me to love unconditionally. She opened my eyes to the inner beauty to be found in each one of us. This was especially true of the special needs students with whom we worked. June was fearless in her love and I learned not to be fearful of rejection by extending my love and concern to others.
June and I worked together for three years. At the end of this time, I moved on to accept a principal’s job and she moved to live near her daughter in Maine. My last memory of being with June was sitting on a black rock beach in Maine, in December, wrapped in wool blankets, drinking hot chocolate, and marveling at the clouds rapidly moving across the sky. We wondered what had happened to the students we taught. Was the unconditional love they received in our classroom and our focus on building self-esteem enough to overcome their multitude of problems?
June had a heart attack two years after we stopped working together and died at the age of 63. I miss her so much even though it’s been almost twenty years since she passed on. She touched my life and supported my change and growth. She was a gift. I think of June as the “hug lady”. I’ve tried to carry on her teachings and legacy of unconditional love towards all in my work with hundreds of children, teachers, and parents. If June were here today, she’d say to me, “Girl, you’re something else. Keep up the good work. I love you!”