Open Letter to a Childhood Teacher


Dear Mrs. Hughes,

I imagined writing this letter to send along with a copy of my first published book. But since I don’t have one of those yet, I’ll just send the letter anyway. Maybe I can send a second letter someday.

I’ve been wanting to thank you for your subtle influence when you were my third grade teacher. I remember little, except that you read wonderful books aloud to us. Where the Red Fern Grows had immediate impact, and I remember rereading it at home, where I could go into the bathroom and cry all I wanted over the deaths of Big Dan and Little Ann. But the most influential book was A Wrinkle in Time. The way Meg broke through IT’s darkness with chants of love, over and over, to Charles Wallace captured me, and I have never been able to shake the power of that scene.

After revisiting the novel a couple times in my adult life, I can see what terrifying encounters L’Engle wove into the story. But I didn’t have a lasting fear for terror then; the ending is what stuck.

The story got me curious about Madeleine L’Engle, too; her nonfiction book Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art may explain why her approach to creativity broke people’s hearts open the way it did mine. While unafraid to handle what is dark, she also believed that true art always leaves a window thrown wide open to hope.

This past school year, I chose to read Wrinkle to a group of fifth and sixth grade composition students in our family’s homeschooling co-op. I think there were some raised eyebrows and nervous laughter at L’Engle’s startling images. But I felt so desperate to share this example of good art that I didn’t care. Maybe the recklessly hopeful story stuck for just one student as it has for me, and she, too, can quietly uncover that memory as she discovers herself becoming an artist–or finally believing herself to be one.

That, I think, is what I really want to thank you for. Yes, for reading the book. Yes, for being my teacher. But most of all, for whatever reckless hope was behind your decisions to do those things. I’d like to think that it had something to do with the belief that, whether published or not, famous or not, each student must know he or she houses the soul of an artist–a creator of good work that helps others see fractals of light breaking into a shadowed world. At any rate, you certainly helped me know that. Thank you.

I wish you gifts of peace and joy as you continue teaching and learning.

Warm regards,

Carrie Beyer

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