Sometimes you meet somebody that you never forget. Somebody that sees the good in you and nothing but the good, who encourages you to follow your dreams in such an effusive manner that they seem to exude sunshine. And when life grows in different directions and you meet again down the road, you seem to pick up right where you left off.
My first class in high school happened to be with such a lady. I shuffled in early, trying to be invisible, and she brightly greeted me with her intoxicating, all-caps, Southern drawl.
I had to look behind me to make sure she was speaking to me. Not to brag, but I was generally successful in my invisibility quest. No one ever looked at me in my dark shirt and scowl and offered a cheery hello.
Mrs. Esrael did. Every single morning that I came to class early to avoid talking to anyone else.
I thought she looked like one of Barker’s beauties from the Price is Right. I literally watched the credits of the show the next time I was sick and stayed home from school to be sure. When I confided that in her a few months later, she thought it was wonderful.
Mrs. Esrael thought everything was wonderful. Especially her students. All through the year she never faltered from the level of enthusiasm that was downright contagious. She accepted each one of us kids as a treasured friend, and allowed and encouraged us to be just who we were.
Once we had to do presentations on an author of short stories. I chose the (creepy) stories I had written in eighth grade and made the entire presentation in the dark of the classroom. She clapped just as loudly as if I had been a classic published author (which was probably the intent of the project.)
Nearly twenty years later, she came to my first book signing.
For Christmas my freshman year I made her an ornament based on a story she read us, Truman Capote’s “A Christmas Memory.” I had almost forgotten about the gift, but when she added me on Facebook a few years ago, she sent me a picture of the ornament on her tree.
“I THINK OF YOU EVERY YEAR WHEN I PUT THIS ORNAMENT UP!”
We are so lucky to have known Pat Esrael, someone who lived each day with enthusiasm, vigor, who brought out the joy in others, and who took joy from each day. I loved seeing her posts and photos of her extensive travels. When my girls were collecting stuffed animals for a charity, she invited us into her home and not only donated toys, but gave us a tour of her fairy garden. More priceless was that my daughters got to be in the presence of one of the most positive teachers I have ever known.
When I heard that she had passed away, at first the news made me choked up. But I have been thinking about how Mrs. Esrael lived her life, and I don’t think a woman who spent all of her time and boundless energy encouraging joy in others would want us to waste one moment being sad. So instead of focusing on mortality, I’m going to take a page out of her book and focus on vitality. I want to look at the world and the people in it for their possibilities. If I can encourage one person the way that she did me and countless others, I will consider myself a success.
A woman like Mrs. Esrael doesn’t strike me as the type to rest in peace. Instead, I am certain she is adventuring to make heaven just as bright as the English classroom from the memory of my freshman year, encouraging all of the angels to smile and be the best they can be.