Last year, I wrote a column about a high school teacher who had made a substantive difference. It was the story of a woman who changed the trajectory of my life. I could not have foreseen the positive response I would receive to that story, especially after I shared it on social media.
People from my hometown, as well as friends I’ve known over the years, responded viscerally. Many knew the particular teacher I featured. Others could relate in a personal way with some aspect of my story or her action.
In that column, I did something else. I said there was an epilogue that also merited some notice. I promised a sequel to the story in the new year. Here is the rest.
Over the years, I developed a yearning to reconnect with this influential teacher after I’d had enough reflective time to realize the difference she had made. Her challenge to me to believe I could do better in school had an effect that went well beyond school. Because when I did do better, I began to believe in myself more generally.
I lost count of how many times over the years I mentioned this transformative teacher to my wife. My twenties turned to my thirties and right on into my forties. One time, I even went to the high school website. Although her email address was not listed there, some of her faculty colleagues from my day still were listed. I emailed a handful of them, but not one seemed to pass along my effort to contact her. None even emailed me back.
Then, the internet gave us all the mixed gift of social media. Suddenly in 2008, Twitter was joined by Facebook. Eventually, a host of social platforms would come along. Somewhere in the 2010s, I found this long-lost teacher on one of these platforms.
“I wanted to let her know what her confidence in me had done.”
A year ago, I mentioned in that column a quote I think captured the difference she had made. The sublime pastor Truett Gannon said, “Few things are more inspiring than to see a person standing in someone’s winter, helping them believe in a better springtime to come.” I wanted to let her know what her confidence in me had done.
So, I “friended” her on the social media site. We reconnected but I didn’t want to unload all my gratitude right at the beginning. Eventually though, I did thank her and explain what she might not even remember doing. She had nudged me as a student in just the right way. She believed in me, academically, before I believed in myself.
We found that in her retirement, she was serving as a docent at a museum located no more than 10 minutes from where we lived. She offered a private tour just for my wife and me. We eagerly took her up on that.
Our time with her was easy and fun. We connected as adults, really not all that far apart in age now. However, there were moments in her tour where she would go into teacher mode and I would feel 14 years old all over again. This 5-foot-nothing woman still could intimidate me and get my full attention.
We have been in touch now for more than 10 years, I suppose. She has been such a gracious recipient of my praise for something of which she may not even have a faint memory. She even joined in as a Zoom participant when I taught from my latest book. That, in itself, was a surreal experience for me.
I think there are two competing truths in life. One is that we don’t always get to tie down loose ends. In this case, I am deeply grateful that I could. Some things, though, we simply won’t get to revisit or finish. Try though we may, factors beyond our control may intervene. They will have to stay as they are. That can be a difficult reckoning.
The other is that when we do get to right a wrong, express a gratitude or complete the unfinished, it can be a rich experience. There are few things in life that are more satisfying. I hope that we’ll look back reflectively on where we’ve been and see more clearly the hinge moments on which life’s doors have swung.
“When we do get to right a wrong, express a gratitude or complete the unfinished, it can be a rich experience.”
I am tempted to believe that a grateful spirit is a gift from God. This spring, you may even want to make the phone call you haven’t made, the visit you intended or do the welcomed good deed that is as yet undone. Yours could be the chance to usher into full bloom a bulb that was planted years ago.
You may want to write a note or say “thank you” to someone about something from way back down the road. Who knows? You could make someone’s days brighter than they possibly would have been without your effort. That someone could even be you.
Charles Qualls serves as senior pastor of Franklin Baptist Church in Franklin, Va.
The timeless power of standing in someone’s winter, helping them see spring to come | Opinion by Charles Qualls
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The pastor as chief encourager | Opinion by Rob Lee