Lessons outlive inspirational teacher

Heather Hughes
Albert Einstein once said, "The distinction between the past, present and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion." I'm inclined to agree when I think about how some memories seem so distant yet so fresh at the same time. Even though it's been several years since high school, a part of me feels like I'm still there in some way. It's almost as if I could peer through the windows and see a 17-year-old version of myself still fumbling with my locker combination or standing in the lunch line for that not-so-tasty but ever-so-popular rectangular pizza.

That's why when I learned that my senior-year English teacher, Suzanne Arp, recently passed away, I was especially taken aback. Not just because at the age of 59, she was gone far too soon, but also because she was still my teacher in my mind's eye. It always seemed like I could walk right into first period at Loudon High School and there she'd be, a big grin on her face and mug of black coffee in hand.

The funny thing is, I don't even remember the first time I met Mrs. Arp. It just seemed like I'd always known her. I was painfully shy in high school, so I was usually nervous anytime I spoke to my instructors, but not Mrs. Arp. I could talk to her with ease. I attribute that to the fact that she treated her students as equals, though sometimes I'm not sure if we were more like adults or she was more like a teenager.

She had a youthful energy about her that made her seem like "one of us." I remember one morning a group of girls begged Mrs. Arp to let them see Kenny Chesney perform on "The Today Show." After completing her lesson, she finally gave in and let them watch (he is from East Tennessee, after all). Near the end of the year, she even let us hang a paper chain on her bulletin board and reminded us to remove a loop each day as we counted down to graduation. Though she was serious about her profession, she knew that it was important to have fun in life.

Likewise, Mrs. Arp didn't have to have everything "just so." The first assignment I ever turned in to her was a collage that I had done for a summer reading project. When I showed it to her, I explained that I wasn't completely clear on the instructions and I asked her if that was what she wanted. She just smiled and said, "No, but that's OK. I like what you did better anyway." Her supportive attitude always boosted my confidence and further developed my love for the written language.

The line between past and present will always blur slightly as I think back on fond memories of Mrs. Arp's class. In my mind, she's still there, helping her students to succeed. Even in her passing, she teaches me that life is short and I should make the most of the time I've been given, just as she did. So as you gather with friends and family this Christmas, hold your loved ones a little closer and tell them what they mean to you. Remember that each day is truly a gift and we never know how many more of those gifts we have to open.

I only wish that I had shared with Mrs. Arp just how much of an impact her instruction and encouragement had on my life. I guess now this column in her memory will have to do. Somehow I believe she would be all right with that. I like to think that she'd smile as usual, and say "That's OK. I like what you did better anyway."

So thank you, Mrs. Arp, for teaching me then and teaching me still.

Heather Hughes, 24, is a recent Lee College graduate and an award-winning freelance writer who lives in Philadelphia, Tenn.