The bell rang.
I stood in the hallway, watching them trickle in, one by one – a Star Trek Borg-like sea of white polo shirts and blue corduroy pants; long ponytails and ribbons; L.L. Bean book bags with monograms and a mass of jangling trinkets on rings hanging from the zipper pulls. They flooded the room in groups, giggling and squealing loudly as I encouraged them to find their seats and get ready for art class to begin.
In this wave of noisy teenage conformity, one face quietly stood out. It wasn’t so much her look, although she did have a very classic, unpretentious beauty – but her presence. At an age when most students were clumsily fumbling around for some sort of role to play – the Popular Girl, the All Star Athlete, the Biggest Flirt, the Goth Chick -- Laura was just Laura. THE Laura. “Laurag,” as her friends lovingly called her. She owned her role, her face, her wardrobe, her body – even the space she moved around in seemed to be infused with Laura-ness. She was like a celebrity without trying to be one. She owned her own identity, not the other way around. In Middle School, no less. I know adults who still don’t know who they are, or who feel limited by who they think they are to others.
So, naturally, in a class that is all about expressing yourself – Art Class – you really have to know who you are to be good at it. To be honest, my class should be called “Art and Identity” class. Or “Who the Heck Are You, Really?” class. To have a student like Laura spend time in my classroom was like having Carl Sagan sit in on your physics lab. Giving her assignments in art seemed like a formality. The lessons were mere prompts for her to let lose the flood of pure creativity that she carried within her at all times. The next day, she would quietly turn in her assignment, grinning, and I would try not to shout “oh my God, that’s BRILLIANT!” and embarrass her -- although I know that inwardly, she would love the reaction. Artists love for people to “get” our art. Laura simply didn’t want others to feel like they were getting dissed when their work didn’t receive the same praise. But she was always quick to compliment others’ work and offer constructive suggestions without ever making others feel inferior. She would have been an awesome teacher.
There is a poem that I found in a magazine once, and I cut it out and hung it beside my desk. It has been wrongly attributed to Nelson Mandela, but it was actually written by Marianne Williamson, and if you told me it had been written by Laura Glassburn to the rest of the world, I would believe it:
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.
We ask ourselves, "Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?" Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God.
Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.
It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone.
And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear,our presence automatically liberates others.
While I’m devastated to hear about Laura’s accident, I consider myself so lucky to have been touched by her light. As I look around, I see glimmers of Laura everywhere – at Charleston Catholic, Capitol High School, at the Capitol Theater, in the faces of everyone she knew, in the entire city of Charleston and beyond … and as those she encouraged to shine spread their light out into the world, her light will continue to shine brighter and brighter, forever.