You Changed My Life, Miz Lane
WHY NOT?! I must have said that a million times growing up. My grandparents raised me in a Philadelphia suburb, and whenever I couldn’t have something I wanted, I’d say, "Why not?!” even though I knew the reason: there was no money for extras. To me, Why not?! were words of complaint. It wasn’t until I met Miz Lane, the schoolteacher across the street, that I learned Why not?! are the two of the most powerful words in the English language-the words of possibility.
No one expected me to amount to much. Not my parents, who abandoned my brothers and me. Not my grandparents, who loved us but were too overwhelmed with keeping us fed and clothed to think beyond the basics. Not my teachers, who saw a kid more interested in sports than books. And certainly not me. The only place I didn’t feel lost was the playground. I was small but fast and good at playing ball.
My grandparents’ neighborhood was one modest square block in an otherwise affluent area. Miz Lane and her family moved in when I was nine. Her son, Norman, and I were both little and scrawny. People said we looked like brothers. One day Norman and I got into a sandlot fight (the "you’re the new kid on the block” fight). After an unimpressive pugilistic moment (by our neighborhood standards), he asked, "Want to come over for peanut butter and jelly?” I sure did!
The first time I stepped inside the Lanes’ house, I could tell it was different. There was a warmth to it, a warmth I’d never known. And it came from Norman’s mom, Miz Lane. She sat us down and fixed us peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I depended on the free lunch program at school, so that was a real treat.
Miz Lane must have sensed that I was hungry for more than food. She asked about me. What was my favorite sport? Did I like to ride bikes? "You come over anytime,” Miz Lane said.
I did, almost every day. Norman got to be my best friend, and the Lanes’ house was my refuge, especially after my grandmother died when I was 10. That summer, Norman went away to camp. I still dropped by. Miz Lane would fix me a snack. I’d help her do the dishes. She’d comb my hair (I was sporting an Afro then). It took a while to work through the kinks, and that’s when we had our best talks. She’d have me read from Miss Manners or the encyclopedia. She never stopped teaching, not even during summer vacation.
One day that fall, I told her, "I’m thinking about trying out for the school play.” Not that there was any chance I’d make it. "Why not?!” Miz Lane said. "You’ll never know how good you are until you try.”
I was stunned. No one had ever had that kind of faith in me before. The next day, I tried out. To my surprise, I landed a role. I raced straight from school to Miz Lane’s. "They chose me!”
"Why not?!” she said. Her smile told me she knew I’d had it in me all along.
"Why not?!” Miz Lane asked when I mentioned learnin
You Changed My Life, Miz Lane
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