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Friday, February 27, 2009

My Life Changing Moment

Do you remember one thing someone told you that became a defining moment in your personal life? Something that first appeared insignificant, then later became tremendously important in making you what you are today? Not instantaneously realized as important words such as wedding vows or lover's promises, but "out of the blue" communications that stuck with you and made you realize something about the rest of your life. The positive effect of these defining moments only became noticeable after the passage of time and the formulation of new perspectives concerning their worth. I am pleased to say that I have had such life-altering experiences. I want to share one with you. Throughout grade school and high school, I liked my English classes and English instructors. All of them had a great deal to do with my decision to pursue an English Education major. For example, two high school instructors, Mrs. Peebles and Mrs. Romanello, provided me an excellent background in grammar, mechanics, and writing. Each became an inspiration for my later aspirations, but I am not writing about these ladies today. Instead, my inspiring moment came during my senior year in Mrs. Distel's class, when, by the way, I had no idea of what I wanted to do with my life or career. The draft was on in '69 and the war was raging in Vietnam as I drew number 104. If I let fate run its course, I would be drafted after graduation. While my football coach had written numerous letters to colleges in efforts to obtain scholarships, I declined their offers. I had tracked college prep for four years, and I was expected to enter post-secondary ed after high school graduation. I felt guilty knowing that many of my friends would not get a college deferment and soon be drafted, but my guilt subsided when I told myself that if college proved to be a bust, I would drop out and soon be drafted anyway. Then, one day in senior English, Mrs. Distel handed back a theme she had graded. I don't have any recollection of the subject of my paper, nor any recollection of the grade I had received for my work. In fact, I read her comments, yet I didn't think about the paper at the time and stuck it in my notebook where somehow it disappeared, probably unceremoniously thrown away with other year-end locker trash, never to be seen again. But I do remember one small, rather vague comment on this paper. At the time I first read this comment, I didn't feel especially wonderful. My job was to write the paper and her job was to grade the paper--enough said. However, years later as I advanced through college and found it time to declare a major, I very distinctly remembered Mrs. Distel's words. She had written this comment on my theme: "You have a spark of greatness in you." I have never forgotten these kind words and this compliment that helped change my life. I still don't know exactly what she was referring to concerning my writing, but the tone and timing of the message were impeccable. Mrs. Distel was challenging me to use some talent she felt she had witnessed. She had drawn me out and effectively affirmed my commitment to become a writer and an English instructor. She knew how to make me look within and think for myself. She, in a few words, had given me the most wonderful gift, and I had nearly walked away from receiving its benefit. A little moment in life, a comment or even words unspoken, can have amazing effects. I am sure you have similar accounts of trivial, but life-changing communications. I would love to collect these and share them in future posts. Please, send me your recollections. I am eager to learn about your good fortunes (or bad, for that matter).
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