When the news first came in a week ago, it didn’t seem real. The legendary Ms. D had passed away. Ms. D was the principal of my all girls’ school that I attended for 12 years. Initially I was dumb found and wasn’t sure how I felt about this great loss, but thoughts and memories of her haunted my mind. A memorial and prayer service was held for her at our school earlier this evening. By the time I got there, I was already teary eyed. Ms. D didn’t like people to cry, especially if it had anything to do with her. So I swore to myself that I would not cry.
Ms. D was not only a principal, but also a friend and mentor to many for the 35 years that she ran the school. She was the very first feminist I had ever encountered. Tolerance, acceptance, generosity, modesty and thinking outside the box were instilled in our little 4 year old brains, and we were reminded almost every day that we were independent individuals and the only thing that stood in our way is ourselves. My favorite memory is of her telling me “when faced with authority, question it and fight it, but never conform to it.” Basically, she told me to be a rebel. And that’s exactly what I have been my entire life.
She was an Ursula like character, with a booming voice that could scare even a lion. She could make any person weak in the knees. Including me… I had a special relationship with Ms. D because I spent a lot of time pacing nervously outside her office, waiting to be dismissed. Yes, I was a horrible student who was always sent to the principal because no one could handle me. But I also played a lot of professional tennis and was thus on the road three months of the school year. So asking for her permission for leave was how I learnt about the true person she was. She respected me for my decision to pursue tennis, and because I was not the average bookworm. I reported to her after every tournament and after every exam cycle. My grades fluctuated immensely but she never paid attention to it. Not even when a teacher threatened to fail me, did Ms. D tell me to apply myself to academics. She waited for me to fall and learn, all the while keeping a protecting eye on me. When I fell, which I eventually did, and had to quit tennis, I told her of my decision. She looked at me that day, smiled and went about her work. From a woman who doesn’t smile, this was clearly a big deal!
While the anecdotes are endless, what I realized today was that she was my parent and there has always been a little part of her inside me, preventing me from ever giving up and inspiring me to be an independent soul. I realized that there was so much about my life that I had not told her. Most importantly that I was gay! We haven’t spoken in years, but for some reason this was important to me. And that is exactly what I did. I got an A4 paper and on it I wrote on it “It’s important to me that you know. I am gay and I have the courage to live my life no matter what society throws my way. This courage within me could only have come from the 12 years I spent under your wing. I am unsure what you would have said if I had told you this in person, but I know that I would have cracked another smile out of you.” And that’s when I cried.
As I walked up to her office for a final goodbye, I could feel her presence embedded in the school stone structure. Her office door so familiar, I even remember the font in which a sticker on her door once read “Please do not disturb.” Cancelling the ‘not’ was Ms. D’s doing. As I walked out of my stone home of 12 years, I never felt more inspired to live my life to make Ms. D proud. And I know one day she will crack a smile at me from heaven.
Just to share, this was her favorite prayer:
May the road rise to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face;
The rains fall soft upon your fields and until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of His hand.