Carolyn Kaiser

Pictured is Carolyn Harmon in first grade when the world was new and her name was Carolyn Kaiser.

Mrs. Hite was her name.

During all of my years as a student, and there were many, this woman was my favorite teacher. In 1971, wearing pastel mini dresses and the pixie style haircut of Julie Andrews in “The Sound of Music,” her soft face and features encouraged us all.

One of the treasured, exciting days before Christmas came in the form of a contest. Each student created a paper reindeer with the best one becoming Rudolph — the famous red-nosed one — leading the paper sleigh pinned to her bulletin board in the back of the room. The other reindeer became part of the sleigh team.

I HAD WON, she announced to the rest of the class. For the days ahead it was difficult not to keep my eyes in the back of the room and the butterflies out of my stomach.

Another great milestone of that year was my school photograph, with each one ever since paling in comparison. The bar was set too high that day with the ferocious hope inside burning like fire through my innocent brown eyes, full of the lovely possibilities life might bring.

Missing baby teeth defined my pirate’s smile, large enough for one of my dad’s Lucky Strike’s to fit into. And my dress was perfect, a comfortable hand-me-down with a red lace-up front, reminiscent of the immigrants in my bloodline.

The big reveal came through a small assembly as we sat in a circle in front of Mrs. Hite. She held up each person’s white packet from the photography company containing the photos, with a window that showed the child’s face.

“Who is this?” she asked with a warm grin, showing each little face to the crowd. We yelled out the child’s name in unison, who ran up and took the packet from her hand. She made us feel important and worthwhile.

We imbibed her great warmth as she helped build our confidence, a vital need that must come from within. But without a lesson in garnering the quality from the outside, some of us may fall short and in turn, missing the value inside others.

Adding to that the fear of COVID-19 and the uncertainty of the General Election, a number of us are lashing out.

I have read, to prevent folks from judging too harshly, picture the person in mind as a little child. It does seem to mellow the need to persecute too quickly. And inside, when we are too hard on ourselves, it might help to think of the little children we once were.

Practicing the gift of the benefit of the doubt allows the space to live up to good reputations. While at times it may be true that some folks are monsters, often it is a choice of the onlooker whether or not to find the good.

Photographer Michael Collopy shared a quote of the late Mother Teresa.

“I once asked her, ‘How is it that you never seem to judge anyone who comes to you?’ She said, ‘I never judge anyone because it doesn’t allow me the time to love them.’ ”

The humble woman also shared, “Smile five times a day at someone you don’t really want to smile at; do it for peace.”

Another bit of wisdom I find most powerful comes from my dear old friend, Winnie the Pooh.

“I don’t feel very much like Pooh today,” said Pooh. “There there,” said Piglet. “I’ll bring you tea and honey until you do.”

These days the healing power of tea and honey can work wonders. I have discovered through friends, the best tea comes from Harney & Sons — Hot Cinnamon Spice in particular.

The taste is a cinnamon candy disc warming as it goes down, taking one to a place where the palm trees glisten in the sun, as the wildebeests gnash their crooked fangs near where the woods line the horizon.

Sitting around the teapot with or without friends, allows a much-deserved moment of nurturing. Since I cannot return to those magical first-grade days with Mrs. Hite — an occasional cup of tea will do.

Finding warmth in kindness; and that is all.