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Having already lost one high school mentor to cancer a couple of years ago, I closed my eyes and leaned my head against the back of the desktop chair when I learned that my alma mater's former assistant principal was in the final stages of breast cancer:  When would it stop?

Janet Bamberger had the linebacker position in the world of education:  Endless, thankless, bruising work, with none of the ceremonial niceties and terrible authority of full-on principaldom.  She was, instead, the disciplinary arm of the administration, with all the adolescent loathing and mockery that came with it.  She'd swoop down on student infractions, her small frame but close-cropped white hair brooking no nonsense and no excuses.  They called her The Bald Eagle.

But she reveled in the academics, hitting the classroom for a course in Cincinnati history and shepherding her students through award ceremonies, scholarship applications, and who knows what-all. She wrote me a perfectly lovely note in support of my writing.  At the same time, she gently shoved me in the direction of political science, wheeling an enormous bulletin board into the school's main hallway and inviting me to plaster it with pictures from a workshop trip to Washington DC.

So I wanted to make sure she knew at least one of us noticed.  I wanted to make sure she knew that at least one walked out of that school not thinking she was a professional killjoy, an enemy of youthful self-expression, a vindictive despot who relished filling out a detention slip.  She never married; she never had a child.  But hundreds of daughters passed over her office threshold.

"I will write her a letter, " I told myself.  And then-- well, you know.  Life.  There was a full-time job, and sleeping, and television to be stared at with blank, exhausted eyes.  Before I could write it, she died.  By weighing my own life more important than her death, I missed the window.

But I had vastly underestimated my fellow alumnae and the quick wisdom that comes with motherhood.  By the time I saw the obituary-- "J. Bamberger was educator," and thus we have a life surmised-- I learned that hundreds of alumnae  had joined a "Pray for Janet Bamberger " group on Facebook well before I'd even heard she was sick.  The family heard; the family helped.  I had little to do here.

Say thank you today.  Say thank you to someone who doesn't get thanked very often.  It's a wearing life, linebacking, but it provides cover and time for everyone else.

humbled at:  mbe@drinktothelasses.com

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Reader Comments (5)

You should still write her that letter of gratitude.

Or are you so sure that there's no way she could be able to read it?

May 11, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterred pill junkie

Oh, no, I'm quite sure she knows. But I also think you should tell people what they mean to you in *this* life.

May 11, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMB

[...] education ain’t so much fun. Share and [...]

True dat.

May 11, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterred pill junkie

Very well said, MB.

May 12, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterKris
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