I knew her as Mrs. Wyld (pronounced "wild"). I never knew her first name, but most nine-year-olds don't know the first names of their teachers. Each day she wore matching polyester suits in various shades of earth tones--browns and golds, beige and olive. Her skin was pale and her short, immaculate nails were always painted in clear gloss that sometimes glinted in the sunlight that poured from a line of windows in the fourth-grade classroom when she wrote on the chalkboard. Mrs. Wyld's hair was styled in a bevy of ash-blonde curls that waved to her shoulders. A pair of wireless glasses perched at the end of her nose, and every so often she would push the glasses up with her index finger with a sigh, almost exasperated. She was strict too. She allowed no funny business. She was intent on teaching her students proper grammar and making sure we knew how to do long division. She always gave us ten extra minutes for recess.
Mrs. Wyld, though, had one flaw. And it was a major one. She was a shamer. No one was immune from her sarcastic barbs. I dodged many of her arrows, because I was a pretty good student, so when we had to go to the board and write sentences or "show our work" for a math equation, I usually did well. Frequently, students were the victims of her censorship. "James, how come you got that wrong? We've been working on diagramming sentences for weeks. You're a disappointment to me." Then James would hang his head and slink back to his desk. Mrs. Wyld didn't shame every day. She would sometimes go weeks without any toxic statements. The class would almost get lulled into a false sense of security. But it never failed. She would always strike again.
It was a sunny, blue autumn day that Mrs. Wyld wielded her shame on me--or tried to. It was near the end of the school day, and all us kids were excited about celebrating Halloween. We were to go around the classroom and share what we'd planned to wear for our costumes. I was especially eager to talk about mine. It was my first store-bought costume. Usually my mother helped me concoct something to wear from old items found at the Goodwill, but that year we'd gone to a department store, Benjamin Franklin's, and purchased my Halloween gear. I chose a one-piece black jumpsuit that tied in the back. On the front a skeleton was precisely outined, the bones glittery, silvered. I would glow in the dark. The plastic mask was a smiling skeleton, two holes cut in its bony nose so I could breathe. A thin, elastic band stapled on each side of the mask would go around the back of my head and hold it in place.
I sat near the back of the classroom, so was one of the last students to share. I had been patient, listening to the others' speak, but practically writhed with exitement to talk about my costume, my palms sweaty with aticipation. "And Priscilla, what will you be for Halloween?" I proudly detailed my costume, and then the unexpected occurred. Mrs. Wyld said, "I'm surprised you'd choose to be a skeleton--a person of your size. Class, don't you think that this is a funny choice?" And soon the whole classroom swelled with laughter. I could feel my face fall in disappointment, suddenly aware of the joke, because I was a hefty girl. Overweight. But even in the midst of the embarrassing moment, something greater won out. I thought about how much I loved that costume, knowing that it was a sacrifice for my mother to buy it for me, as even at nine, I was aware that my parents had financial pressure. I wouldn't let Mrs. Wyld's comments keep me from enjoying something I'd chosen, wouldn't let her spoil my pleasure.
Even as adults, we face "shamers." People who throw cold water on ideas or projects or dreams. People who put others down to make themselves feel better. Often shamers are people we love, or people who are not "supposed" to be shamers. Like Mrs. Wyld. Thankfully, God is not a shamer. He is a good father who sees us as His beloved children, for whom He's placed dreams and desires and talents and hopes. When shamers confront us, we can always fall back to our position as the much loved child. We can see what He sees.
That afternoon, after the shaming incident, I remember walking home from school. I could feel the hint of autumn in the October air. Indian summer. The trees had begun to shed, and I walked on trails of gold and red fallen leaves that cushioned my way home. All I could think about was donning my costume, running my hands over the glittering bones, not minding that my skeleton was slightly chubbier than most.