Where we are in the space we’re in.


Dear Dr. Greer,

Thanks for being a history teacher who thought, among a myriad of other important things, that knowing the where of where we were studying just might make a difference in how we viewed the world.

Sometimes, I didn’t much like you for it, and certainly didn’t appreciate it. I mean really, who wants a test with a blank map of Europe or Southeast Asia to fill in? Well, now at fifty-four years old, I can say this girl—woman, lady, whoever—does.

Yep. Give me an atlas with a cup of tea and it’s a big Friday night. It’s all the places I’ve been or places I’ll go, spread out before my eyes, full of memories, dreams, adventures and a chance to do it all again.

I like my GPS fine. I do have an underdeveloped sense of direction when in the car, so it keeps me on track and out of trouble. But at the same time, I need to know “where I am in space” relative to where I’ve been and where I’m going. Something a GPS can’t really tell us.

A few years ago, I worked with a group of neuro therapists for a while, interviewing their brain injury clients and writing their stories (one of the best projects I ever had).

For some of those people, who were perhaps re-learning to walk, re-focusing their vision, or re-organizing their thoughts, it was also of utmost importance to regain the ability of knowing where they were in the space they were in. It sounds so simple when you have that ability, but take it way? I imagine it’s a lot like waking up and not knowing where you are, except it’s for more than a split second of that panic; it’s utter panic. It was a cognitive ability that had to be re-learned before they could make other strides forward in their road to recovery.

We left Santa Fe, New Mexico the first day of September, 2016, after spending the entire month of August there. (It’s a blessing to be able to work wherever we are.) We made the drive over from Charlotte to Santa Fe with two English setters onboard. One is old and (totally) blind and one is young with a touch of crazy just for fun. We went west in a meandering through Tennessee, Kentucky, Illinois, Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas kind of way.

But when it came time to think about coming back, with the two setters still with us, we got out the atlas again. Even though we decided to come straight through on I-40 toward Charlotte, I still needed to see the space I’d be in. I needed a sense of where I would be relative to this giant country of ours. New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Tennessee, North Carolina all in a row.

And I knew a little something and a little history about every one of them, I’m sure, in part, thanks to your 4-choice multiple-choice tests that were, let me tell you, hard. (I totally digress, but you used to tell us you gave us that kind of test to prepare us for college, despite our begging you to just let us wait until we got to college, where, sure enough, there was that same style test, waiting for me in Communication 101.)

In your classroom, while working and worrying through those blank maps, I was unaware that I was being launched on a life-long journey through the time and space I’m in, places I would go, adventures and misadventures I would live through (so far). But I was. And I’m so, so glad. I’ll never look back and wish it hadn’t happened.

You made a difference. I’ve been to every state now except Alaska. But what are forty-nine states in comparison to the impact you had on thousands of kids who sat in your classroom, learning where they were and where they could go?

Too many of us are just out there wandering in the wilderness, with no idea where we are or where we’re going. This world needs more people like you to help them fill in the blank spaces. I suppose now you’re in a place those of us here haven’t gone, and don’t have the knowledge, or imagination, to understand or grasp where it is in space. So, safe travels, Dr. Greer, and if you have time, send us a map, and preferably not a blank one.

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