Continuing our daily Advent reflection series, former Domestic Volunteer Susan Zagar highlights the foundation of relationships in faith: hope.

A person who touched my life in a positive way was Thelma, a woman who traveled the halls of the Baltimore City Adult Learning Center in a magenta electric wheel chair. I had just begun tutoring in Baltimore, and on my second day of working in the classrooms, the lead teacher assigned me to work with Thelma.

The first thing Thelma and I worked on was adding two fractions together. I had assumed I would be tutoring in reading or writing (being an English major), but in the first week the coordinator asked, “How comfortable are you with fractions?”

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Fractions were the thing that gave students the most trouble, as I soon learned. I was very hesitant, but I gave it a try.

Working with Thelma on math problems was a true gift. She was very gracious and thankful to have my assistance, but meanwhile, I was in awe of how diligently she worked on each problem.

She took her time and said each and every step out loud as she figured out the common denominator between two fractions to add them together.

In between math problems and lessons, she would pause to talk to me about her family, her experiences with dialysis, her plans for an upcoming birthday. She was very open about the life challenges she dealt with. She had health complications that kept her from attending class sometimes, but she came when she was able. She had a pleasant, calm voice, and a beautiful smile.

Despite all she had been through, she maintained a strong spirit and was very determined to earn her diploma. One day, she told me her dream was to attend college someday, even if it was just one course or even one lecture. In addition, she hoped to tutor other students and tell them, “If I can do it, so can you.”

I remain in awe of her life lessons and her ability to maintain her strength of character even in the midst of struggles. Her stories and her attitude inspired me to follow a “different way” as the three wise men did, to solve each problem (math or life related) steadily, to give presence to each step in the process, and to make hope the common denominator for overcoming life difficulties, pains, and anxieties.

Coming up tomorrow: “An Angel’s Message” by Bridget Higginbotham!


Susan Zagar is a former Domestic Volunteer. She is currently tutor coordinator for the Literacy Council of Montgomery County as well as adjunct professor at Montgomery College

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