Searching For…offered up a triple shot of emotional drama this week. A tough guy looking for his brother, a woman looking for a teacher who inspired her to do great things and Pam Slaton’s middle school teacher who made a difference in her OWN life.
The first story involved a good ole’ Italian boy, Carmine Azzato. A professional wrestler from Brooklyn, New York, was searching for his brother. His mother, Camilla Panetta, gave birth to a son, Denis, at the young age of 16 and her father had her place her son up for adoption. However, she stayed on the same street her whole life…just in case her son ever wanted to find her. Struggling with not wanting to interrupt her son’s life, she choose to not look for him. Before she passed away from breast cancer, she changed her mind and hoped to find him. Unfortunately it was too late. Now, 5 years after his mother’s death, Carmine was determined to find his brother. Already “family” in his heart, he wanted to let Denis know his family wanted him in their lives. With Pam’s help, he was able to get his cell phone number.
Fighting back tears, Carmine made the call and told Denis he believed he was his brother. THEN…the phone went dead. Luckily they had only been disconnected. Carmine called back to very open brother. After telling Denis of his brothers, he had to break the news that their mother had passed. With a pause which I can only assume was a moment of regret, the conversation moved on. The next day, Carmine and his brother met for the first time. As Carmine drove down a road he had traveled many times, he came to Denis’ home. Taking a moment to wipe away the tears, Carmine was finally meeting his older brother. With a huge hug and a few tears….Denis was part of the family. He then introduced Carmine to his wife. Carmine joked that he needed to fatten up his brother. I am sure after some good Italian dinners, Denis will soon lose his “runway model” appetite! After meeting, the brothers remained in each others lives. Carmine spent Easter getting to know Denis’ family while Denis met the entire family at a block party…on the same street his mother once waited for him to return to.
Pam Slaton then turned her attention to Faith who grew with the daughter of a single mother living in New Jersey. Faith wasn’t looking for a parent or sibling, she was looking for a woman who had lifted her spirits as a young child. Unmotivated as a child, Faith’s grades suffered. With straight F’s in elementary school, Faith had little self esteem…until she met her 4th grade teacher, Sister Lucy Clarke. Despite the fact that Faith got poor grades, Sister Lucy made her feel as if she was capable of anything. Faith couldn’t help but want to ask her “Did you love me as much as I loved you?”. Unconditional love that impacted Faith in a HUGE way…now, over 30 years later it still brought tears to her eyes. Pam sent her on a mission to her old school to see if she could find any information. Being at her old school brought back memories for Faith, but turned up no leads. Pam then suggest she go to the convent, St. Michael Villa, in hopes that they would have some information. AND they did! It just so happen that Faith was able to meet with Sister Ann Rutan who happened to be a good friend of Sister Lucy. Sister Lucy was now working in Jersey City in the “York Street Project”…a project that helps single moms. Wow. Over 30 years before she had helped the daughter of a single mom and now she is doing the same.
Faith traveled to Sister Lucy’s work and found herself face to face with the woman who changed her life. With an embrace, Faith crumbled and so did I. It was such a sweet and tender moment. Sharing with Sister Lucy that she felt she was “legacy building”, Faith decided to read her a poem she had written the night before:
I was a failure, or so I thought.
I never got an “A”.
They would say “oh no, no, no, not Faith. Can’t you see?
She doesn’t have the capability”.
My hope was fading, then you found me.
You found me bruised, my spirit was shattered.
And then you said, “They don’t matter”
You told me to be proud. You told me to be strong.
Sister Lucy, you told me to sing my song…of anything I wanted to be.
So I traveled this journey of 3,000 miles to sit and stay awhile.
Because you have become more than a teacher, but a voice of encouragement,
hope and inspiration.
And for that I simply say “Thank you”.
As Sister Lucy described remembering how Faith was a child full of life, fun, smart and bubbly…”it was like seeing family”, Faith looked at her with kid eyes hanging on every word. In that moment, you could truly tell how much Sister Lucy’s words had meant to her…and still did.
This story touched Pam because like many of us, she too had a teacher that had made her feel important…her Junior High teacher, . Pam gave her teacher a call and shared with her that she had “felt lost and that you really cared about me”. Pam started crying as she reminded her teacher of how she helped her after her brother’s death and that she was somewhat of a mother figure for Pam. Her teacher was so touched. “God knew I needed a little lift and there you are”. Pam truly made her day.
I can’t help but think back to all the teachers that made a difference in my life. Some inspired me….some helped me to find direction and structure…some made me believe in my dreams…and others let me know my opinions mattered. Each teacher I had impacted me and helped me to become the person I am today.
You see….teachers have the ability to make each child feel as if they are special and worthy of greatness AND every person has the ability to be a GREAT teacher.