There are first impressions we never forget. Sometimes we wonder: Where are they now? Are they well? Not long ago, while attending a teaching conference in Colorado, I got the answer to those questions from a first impression I never forgot.
Reagan sat very still, in the back-corner desk, carefully observing students walking into my public speaking course at the university. I noticed her response to what she saw: hands smoothing down her hair, a feeble attempt to cover the wrinkles on her clothes. On her desk: only a pencil, a few pieces of paper and a pencil, nothing else. During introductions students shared “something unique about themselves.” I remember her quiet voice: “Reagan. First semester. Forgiven and resilient.” How curious.
A week later Reagan visits my office, and we speak about the semester. Public speaking is difficult for her. “I’m not like my peers; my experiences are different. I am not seen or heard, yet. I enjoy the lectures, but I’m dropping the class. I’m not ready.” I encourage her to reconsider.
As she leaves the office, I head to my next appointment: observing a colleague chaplain lead a community drug recovery support group. My colleague has asked me to observe and evaluate his work. As I drive, I think about Reagan’s introduction: “forgiven and resilient.” What can I not see? What am I not hearing?
That evening I sit in the back of a small, dimly lit space, folding chairs placed in a familiar classroom style. Individuals attending share their life journeys: triggers, relapses, kindness, role models. Then a familiar face stands up to share: Reagan. She speaks of forgiveness, sobriety, a new job, and a church community. “God forgave me. I pray for resilience. I read being resilient meant going back to your original form after being broken. I pray that others will see me, hear me, and not let my past blur the fact that God has a plan for me.”
Resilient: searching for another opportunity to be heard and seen as she is now: forgiven.
At the end of the evening, as I try to exit the meeting unnoticed, my chaplain colleague walks me out. I commend his dedication, then ask a favor: “Remind Reagan that class begins at 10:00 a.m.”
Next morning at 9:55 I walk into the classroom and see Reagan sitting at the front of the class: ready to be seen and heard, for what she has to say is more valuable than imagined.
* * *
Five years later, Colorado, I stand in line at a popular fresh produce market. I watch as the store manager, a pleasant person, walks through the lines greeting people. Then I feel a tap on my shoulder. Reagan! She is part of making things grow, meeting farmers who work the land and appreciate the resilience of soil that always yields fruit. Reagan: a shy student, now the owner of a thriving store. Resilient. She hugs me and whispers: “I believe God introduced us. Thank you for hearing and seeing me.”
I walk out of the store crafting a new definition. Resilience: forgiveness, embracing life, salvation, and having the grace to recognize it in others as a precious gift from God.
Dixil Rodríguez, a university professor and volunteer hospital chaplain, lives in Texas.