How do you measure the life of a woman or man?

Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes,
Five hundred twenty-five thousand
Journeys to plan,
Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes,
How do you measure the life
Of a woman or a man?
In truths that she learned,
Or in times that he cried?
In bridges he burned,
Or the way that she died?
Seasons of Love
Donny Osmond

When someone you care about dies, you think about all the things that you didn’t get to do with that person; you think about the endless conversations you could’ve had. But that person is gone. Gone forever. And you will never be able to talk or see them again. Not even once. If by now you’re not crying or at least feeling any type of emotion, it’s probably because you’ve never experienced the loss of a close person.

You are so lucky.

Not only because of the pain of knowing that they will never be there anymore but because we have to accept it, because that’s the reality, yet a part of us always wonders about the “if they were still alive”.

Eight years ago, when my grandma died, I was only eight years old. I was sad, but my small mind couldn’t fully understand what was going on. Now, I look back and think about all the things that I wish I would’ve asked, the infinity of questions, the endlessness of possible answers, all the lessons that I only wish she would’ve taught me. But like I said, I look back and think this; I was over my grandma’s death for years until some weeks ago, someone else died. I am now 16 and can definitely process the event of a death. I know this because if not I wouldn’t have shed a tear while writing this sentence and remembered Ms. Charo Castañeda. If you go around my school asking about her you’ll hear two things: “I love her!” and “I hate her!” She was a controversial person since she was known for being a strict, mean and funny teacher.

When I first got into middle school, the first day of school she made class rules very clear:

  1. “No eating in class.”

My thought: “This is very normal and I really don’t think that she’ll be as strict as everyone said.”

2. “If you have braces, you can’t eat Oreos at any time, because it will get stuck in your braces and that’s just disgusting.”

My thought: “What. How can a teacher say such a thing when she is supposed to be accepting and fair? Maybe she’s trying to be funny.”

3. “Don’t rock on your chair”

My thought: “This is just another teacher giving us that stupid rule.”

She finishing stating the rule: “Because if you fall, your head will open and if your head opens, your brain juices will stain the floor and if you brain juices stain the floor, I will have to call your parents who will be crying about your death to pay the school to repair my dear carpet.”

My thought: “Jesus christ.”

After having that first impression of her, not knowing whether I was a Charo lover or hater, I had class with her again and I remember perfectly the day that a… um… not-so-smart girl in my class, said something extremely stupid and Ms. Charo went up to her face and coldly whispered hard enough for everyone in the class to hear: “mucho pelo, poco cerebro”, meaning: “so much hair, yet so little brain.” I mean, the class was shook. I don’t think anyone said a word until the class ended. I was then sure that I was a Charo lover. Ms. Charo was one of the most remarkable teachers that I ever had and I could not be more grateful to her; I have probably never learned so much as I did in her class, but it took time for me to realize that.

I remember clearly that I would try my best and she’d fail me. I’d go home to my mom and complain saying that she was insane and that she needed to be fired. I was now a Charo hater. I just wanted to give up, but my mom told me that if I gave up, I would be telling Ms. Charo that she was right and that I deserved that grade. So I tried the entire semester to satisfy the teacher by presenting excellent projects and trying my 110%, yet she still failed me. At the end of the semester I went to the middle school office to ask if I could change classes, but they said that it was way too late to make such changes. It was a nightmare. An entire semester more with *pukes a bit in his mouth* “Ms. Charo”. The next semester was the same, failed every assignment, but I never stopped trying.

It was now the end of the second semester of sixth grade and I was going again to the office to make sure that I would never have her as a teacher again, but before that happened I saw my report card and I had got the highest grade possible in her class. I was lost. She had been giving me grades that screamed that I needed to step up my game over and over… and that’s when I realized that that was exactly what had happened.

I went to her class to have a talk with her and she explained everything to me. She said what I was thinking, but couldn’t put into words: “Nicolas, you are an incredibly capable student, when I saw your work for the first time I saw that you were good at what we did and that you found this class to be easy peasy lemon squeezy. And I didn’t like that. Everyone else in class struggled to find coordinates and remeber countries’ capitals, but not you, you had all the skills necessary to be a great high school student, except trying hard, which is the reason why I gave you such unfair grades the entire year, so that you would actually try.” I once again became a Ms. Charo lover.

I never had her again as a teacher and didn’t think about her for years, but now that she passed away, I realize how much she really meant to me and all the students that loved her, how she impacted my life: she is the reason why I now try hard at everything I do. Knowing that she was over 30 years working at my school, I know that she touched thousands of students and will continue to even if she is not present. So that’s how I would like to measure Ms. Charo’s life, not by the 8,792,000 minutes she was alive, but by the number of students that she touched and will continue to touch, a number that may not be as big as the number of minutes she was alive, but that will mean so much more, since we will remember her for much longer than that, forever.

May Ms. Rosario “Charo” Castañeda Rest In Peace

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