There But For the Money
by Adele Azar-Rucquoi
Pool side, Tuesday, early dawn. The sun is just peeking above the bright red, dew heavy bougainvillea. I’m finally getting around to yesterday’s mail. Who is this Elizabeth D.? I try to remember. The mystery grows: Tearing opening the envelope, I’m confronted with two pages of perfect handwriting, Adele, I found your book review in the Barry University Allumi magazine. I wondered! Is this Adele, the Sister Mary Adele that taught me almost forty years ago. I have to tell you that seeing your name again sparked wonderful memories. My friends and I treasure our years in Sister Adele’s classroom at St. Juliana’s. We talk about the kickball games, square dancing, the musicals, the “no homework if John Kennedy is elected President, and the famous: “What doth it profit a man”!
“I’ve been an area Superintendent supervising thirty four principal these past fifteen years. ...I often think back to my days in your classroom and share examples of the effective technique and strategies you used. My own students benefitted. ...You were an exceptional teacher.... You number among the blessings in my life.......
I’m dumbfounded. This is the same little Elizabeth who played my leading lady, Yum Yum. Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado had been my first musical production. Everyone was there! Parents gave us a standing ovation. I’ve never forgotten.
Then there was writer-educator, Parker Palmer: “It’s nothing less than bliss when good teaching happens. Students and teachers ride on an illuminated wave of rich insights.” This Quaker mentor had shared his observation with me that very morning in my meditation (The Heart of the Teacher)
Memories flood! My classroom1 They stood when I opened the classroom door, shouting their greeting like the rise and fall of an ocean wave.
“Good Moooorrrrrrning, Sister,” I’d remain at the door, taking in all their innocence. Blair, JoAnn, Donald. all of them. They were my classroom community, a very real part of my religious calling. I was fresh out of Novitiate training as a newly coifed, Sister of St. Joseph.
It was my first teaching assignment; a bubbling bunch of fourth graders. Oh, those moments of pure magic. They had been real for me, and I’d almost forgotten. Bright faces, curious, bouncing arms waving. I fell in love with every face. And with that love, I discovered a joy I hadn’t known. “You’re born to teach,” voiced my principal.
My heart knew it to be true. The kids and I floated on a wave of learning that was magical. I delighted in breaking the rule of curriculum only. I researched poetry texts, song lyrics; discovered old folk tales, presented huge art paintings. We plastered drawings all over the walls. And the world of classical music played in their ears from our worn record player scratching on the old 78 rpm. The entire school even managed to perform Gilbert & Sullivan’s The Mikado.
But it wasn’t always to be so. I moved on. I knew God was leading me elsewhere after my sixteen years in the convent, where dollars and cents had never figured in my teaching equation. Now, for the first time, I felt money pressures. As Ms. Adele Azar, I had to set myself up in an apartment. I had to have a car. But surely, I thought, to survive I could always teach. And therein was to be my greatest classroom lesson: Teaching just for the money inescapably shattered the magic.
It wasn’t hard to find that first part time teaching job: A high school principal hired me right away for the school’s choral presentations. But it also wasn’t long before I discovered everything was different.
I complained: “ Your students are giving me a rough time.” It only took a year. I opted out. Thank God for my full time job as director of religious education. I could survive.
Yet, not long after, Father Joseph Nolan’s generous offer persuaded me once more: “It’s only one day with the eighth grade”. he smiled. I smiled back. “Sure, I’ll do it. I liked a swelling bank account.
Despite all my best intentions and renewed efforts , once again, the excitement wasn’t there, the wholesome bonding. Students groused about, plastered the air with apathy. What was going on? I knew how to handle a classroom. I ‘d always known how to be with young people. But there it was: When the bell rang, you would have thought we’d had a bomb scare. A slap in the face would have been easier to take. I sat a long while behind that teacher’s desk, tears in full force. I walked to the window. Lush green lawns, kids playing tag with book bags, laughing, parents hugging. I needed a friend: Father Joe.
In his office, I complained. But Father wasn’t going to blame them. As I look back, he loved those kids. And he never blamed me either. Signing my last check, he paused. He handed it to me with a look that was both kind and sharp. It was a look never to forget.
I walked into the Florida sunshine, glad it was all over. I wouldn’t enter another classroom again. Or so I was convinced.
Fast Forward to present time. I’m writing, talking to women in and out of classroom settings. I’m thanking God that what I have to say finds a receptive audience. The rooms bubble with shared personal accounts. Participants reveal old and new money visions and pain. Some gain a money reverence as never before. That reverence thrills me. And so, I speak to groups, run workshops, on, of all subjects, money! Not how to make more, but how to relate to it in a spiritual way. I confess personal struggles, how I worked too hard for money, how I related to a wonderful inheritance and all the struggles that went with that inheritance. (Money As Sacrament, Celestial Arts) Once again, I’m bonded with my listeners. But one thing is still missing in all this success, something that has long weighed on me for resolution. And that is: how did that explosively magic of Sister Adele’s classroom of long ago turn into unholy terror for the new Adele Azar.
That morning, Parker Palmer and Elizabeth D’s letter gently walk me to a blessed awakening. At last, I hear what those troublesome students were trying to say in many ways so many years ago. “We wanted to learn. You were the one who lost it. If you really needed the money, you could have delivered pizza after school, or
collected movie tickets at the Cinema, or baby-sat. But when you walked in that door to teach us, we expected you to be totally with us But you were always somewhere else. Did you ever really want to be here? You arrived out of breath, hung your coat in a hurry, threw us a feeble smile, and told us to pull out our books without even so much as a how do you do? ”
I look over to the dwarfed podacarpus plant. It refused to bend under the weight of yesterday’s rain.The baby papaya revealed tiny blossoms, and a red geranium sparkled in high bloom. O God. How could I have been so blind. Where had I left You? That look in Father Joe eyes when I complained about the kids said it all. He knew! I had been watching my money grow rather than my students. Tears fall into the pool celebrating my breakthrough! It had finally become so clear. Sometimes we have to move away a great distance in time from an experience to grasp and really understand it’s spiritual lesson.