school deskSchool was serious business. From circle time in kindergarten to graduating college magna cum laude with a double major, if I was a student, then I was a student!

But one of the longest lasting lessons came from a day I missed school.

Perhaps I had missed a day of school before, but this day is the first time I remember missing. I must have been sick, because my mother was not one to keep kids home for any other reason.

I went back to school—first grade—brimming with anxiety about what I missed. What had everyone else learned that I wouldn’t know? How would I catch up? Then came silent reading time, featuring the old Dick and Jane series of books. And there it was.

A word I did not recognize.

I stared at it while panic overtook me and finally raised my hand for help. Miss Miller came right away.

“I haven’t learned this word,” I said. “I can’t read it.”

Without saying anything, she covered the second part of the word. Suddenly the first half made sense: can. She moved her fingers to cover can and then I saw not. Cannot.

That didn’t seem so hard.

Obviously I learned to read proficiently, including applying skills for sounding out new words and analyzing what I know about the meaning of parts of words. But that one word, cannot, has stuck in my memory for lo these many years. Lately every time I read it—or type it—the memory of Miss Miller gets reinforced, and I seem to be perseverating on it. (At this moment, we won’t dissect what that means for my brain health.)

I’m still susceptible to working up anxiety that blinds me to what should be obvious. That lesson from first grade still teaches me:

1. Stop dreading the worst before it happens.

2. When I feel stuck, it’s all right to ask for help.

3. I probably know more than I think I do.

4. When I don’t understand the big picture, break it down into parts I do understand.

Thank you, Miss Miller, wherever you are.

• How about you? What do you remember about being in first grade?