It's still impossible. The notion that Beth Mitchell, a curly-haired explosion of life and passion, could possibly be gone from this earth is impossible. And yet.
Never before have I experienced such a potent mixture of joy and sorrow—joy that her pain is blessedly over and that she's been reunited with the Lord she served and loved so faithfully, sorrow over the fact that we no longer get to share in even some small portion of her life.
I've been trying to process this news since Tuesday morning, when she departed this earth, but every time I think of her, it feels like I'm hitting a raw nerve. It's pretty difficult to explain my relationship to Beth. She was a teacher, mentor, role model, mother figure, and friend to me. We started out as teacher/student, though that grew into an authentic friendship after college (even as it took place mostly over Facebook at that point). While ours was obviously not as close as the relationships she held with her fellow teachers and other friends at her similar stage in life, it was still uniquely ours, and meant a great deal to me.
I don't want to lose any of the memories I have of her. I don't want to forget the impact she had on me as I go on through life and the past gets a bit fuzzy. I also want to share with you, my readers and the world at large, what an incredible person she was.
See, there's this Ancient Greek concept called Kleos that she taught me in the eighth grade. It was their way of gaining immortality, by accomplishing great deeds, and pretty much just getting talked about and remembered. While Beth has absolutely no need for Kleos as she's achieved immortality with our Father in heaven, she certainly left an impression on this earth and the people in it.
So, Beth, here is a list of everything that makes me think of you, in no particular order. This list holds the things I love most about you, my favorite memories of the two of us and of you alone, and everything in between. You are sorely, sorely missed.
1. Margaret Mitchell. The first time we met was for my entrance interview with Evangel Classical Christian School just before 7th grade. You had no way of knowing that I had just come from a year of deep depression, bullying, and body-shaming, as well as neglect and apathy from a litany of teachers at my old public school. I walked in, incredibly nervous, and met with you, Mrs. Collins, and Mrs. Bell. All three showed pure delight in meeting me, something I'd never before encountered, but you were the one I clicked with the most. Because my first name is Margaret, and your last name was Mitchell, we somehow got to talking and joking about Gone with the Wind, a book I had read about five times during 6th grade. Your Scarlett O'Hara impressions made me laugh, and the topic of books set me purely at ease. I left that interview knowing that ECCS was the place I belonged.
2. "It's Friday, Woohoo! It's Friday, oh yeah!" At the start of every Friday homeroom, you did a funky dance and sang this number, which made all of the girls in my class incredibly excited to start the day (despite the early hour).
3. You taught me how to write correctly, and to appreciate good grammar while abhorring bad (though I can't promise to remember every rule and may, on occasion, slip up. Like now). You taught me to research, compile an entire argument, and then rearrange all the pieces until they fit perfectly. And yes, while senior thesis was a long and exhausting process, it was incredibly rewarding as well.
4. Your hair. The curly mass of it has ALWAYS impressed me and made me smile. I loved watching the different styles and colors over the years (except the day you straightened it. #curlsforever).
5. Your voice whenever you read anything aloud. Frankly, I'd be happy to hear you reading tax codes or even receipts. I still wish you'd narrated The Gateway Chronicles.
6. The 8th grade Greek funeral ceremony for Hector. I loved the fact that you asked us to be creative, writing from the perspective of his wife. I totally made myself cry as we all surrounded the fire in our bed sheet chitons, but you didn't judge.
7. Speaking of tears...ALL THE TEARS that happened in your 12th grade literature class! Their Eyes Were Watching God, The Diary of Adam and Even, T.S. Eliot, FAULKNER—I think I cried once a week, if not more, in that dang classroom. Yet, every time it happened, you didn't judge. You'd just smile affectionately and pass tissues to the back corner of the classroom where I was hiding.
8. The animated way you taught, or spoke, or did anything and everything in life! You'd jump on desks, help us play pranks on Mrs. Houser, and any manner of other things.
9. Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat playing in your car as you drove me and a few other students to a field trip...or maybe it was girls' night. "I closed my eyes, pulled back the curtain til I knew for certain..."
10. Donnie Osmond and your undying affection for him. From the shrine to the spontaneous outbursts of song, you shared your love with all of us.
11. Music. That makes me think of you in an instant—mostly because there's a strong memory of me sitting in your class during a workday during our junior year. We were doing something that required relatively no thought, so I began to hum, then sing, then sing louder until I made my way through the entire Wicked soundtrack. And you encouraged it. When I stopped, embarrassed after a second, you asked me to keep going and (though I'm sure this annoyed some of my classmates), it filled me with absolute warmth.
12. Public Speaking. Despite my extreme nervousness at the start, you kept pushing me (alongside Mrs. Houser), encouraging me and gently correcting me until I managed to get through it without a quaver in my voice or a trembling of my hands.
13. Your outfits were always so full of color and fun—especially that day you walked in with two shoes of vastly different colors, then told us the story about how you'd bought five pairs of the same shoe in various colors. I think my favorite was always when you brought out the cheetah/leopard print, though.
14. Your approach to virtually every issue. I remember one moment in particular in which my classmates and I were furious over some political news. It was at some point in high school, but while those details are fuzzy now, what I do remember is this. You bowed your head at the podium for a moment and took a breath, then calmed us down before praying. You prayed for us, for our country, and made it clear that while the situation seemed scary and anger was natural, we must still approach it with wisdom and love, hand in hand.
15. You were always SO PROUD of your kids, and I loved that! You would brag on Molly's dancing and Ross's mad karate skills, and I loved hearing all about them.
16. Fangirling over Karin's books. One of my favorite moments ever was meeting up at the Starbucks with Elise, Karin, and you after we got to pre-read The Bone Whistle. Not only did I feel like I'd finally "made it," but it was an incredible experience as an aspiring author, to hear and see what the editing process was like in person, as well as to have a hand in it.
17. LSC! (The Literature Smackdown Club, for you poor babes who've never heard of it). God bless you forever for founding it! I know that it's pretty quiet these days, but when you started it during the Snowpocalypse of '14, it was perfect timing for me. It came during a period in my life where I was disconnected from most everyone, feeling pretty dead and dull inside, and in desperate need of spirited debates, edification, and stimulating intellectual conversation, all of which I got there!
18. Seeing you point people to the lord over and OVER again, even in the midst of your worst pain during the ordeal from September through January 17th. Soli Deo Gloria, forever.
19. "Whilst." It is a word that is strictly British, but because I read so much British literature, it found its way into my papers and assignments time and again. This always baffled you, but we laughed over it when I was older and out of school. And yes, I still use "whilst" whilst I write.
20. Harry Potter. You definitely had the McGonagall factor down, and we had the BEST conversations about The Boy Who Lived.
21. Little Women. I think it was my junior year again when you asked us to bring in a passage of literature that we thought was beautiful. You wanted us to read it in front of the class, then explain what we thought made it beautiful, what figures of speech they used, etc. I chose the passage in which Beth dies. Even thinking about it makes my heart tighten, so I don't know why on earth I thought I'd get through class able to keep it together. But, as I began, my voice started to quaver and my eyes grew hot, then finally, I couldn't even get the words out or see them and I'd only reached the halfway point. You stood up to relieve me, but as I sat at my desk quietly sobbing, you began to experience the same symptoms. You didn't get more than a few lines through before you, too, were in tears. Finally, we had to get another teacher in the room to finish it before I could finish my presentation.
22. You totally encouraged my hopeless romanticism, even as you laughed over it as well. It made and makes me incredibly happy, knowing that I can embrace who I am wholly and without shame as God made me, romantic notions and all.
24. Legacy. Kleos. These basically mean the same things to me now, and encourage me to influence as many others as possible for the better, just as you did.
25. ITALY! We literally traveled the world together, ate all the gelato in Rome, and bought some pretty fine leather jackets in Firenze, along with Charlie, JP, Dru, and other ECCS people.
26. Your amazing use of memes. Seriously, all the memes!
27. I'M FIFTY! And I can kick! And jump!
28. When I found out that not only were you a transfer to the college where I transferred, but we were both in the same tribe. #KTsisters
29. Your ability to quote movies, particularly Legally Blonde.
30. Both of our unfailing love for Moulin Rouge. I still ugly cry every single time I see this film, and now the tears will be even uglier because I can't whine to you about it!
31. The time you tagged me in this. Because it was so true. Every. Single. Year.
32. "It's me, I'm Cathy, I've come home. Let me in at your window!" The creepy Cathy song you played for us after we read Wuthering Heights. I still shudder thinking about it.
These are just a few in the massive wealth of memories floating about my head. I'll add to it as I recall others, if only so I can have an account to hold onto through the years. The only thing I can think to say now, though, is this.
"I can't wait to see you again. It's only a matter of time."
PS: In a totally highschool-Maggie, dramatic, hopeless romantic, musical lover moment, I decided to sing a song that pretty much perfectly sums up my feelings about all of this. Because, obviously, when in doubt: sing. Besides, Little Women is one of my favorite memories with Beth, not to mention the fact that she was endlessly supportive of my sing-song nature. Here's the link, because I'm a technophobe and can't figure out how to download it: Days of Plenty