On June 9th, the teaching elder of my faith community, Marc Alan Schelske, posted a Question of the Day asking about the most influential teachers in our lives and what impact their influence has had in our lives. My answer turned into a blog post, “The Influence of Male Teachers.”
I had completely lost touch with both teachers I wrote about, one who had previously been on my FB friends list. I was disappointed and even a bit fearful that this particular teacher was no longer to be found. I really wanted him to know and understand the difference he had made in my life, and probably countless other students’ lives. I let it go.
In the meantime, as part of the process of committing to pursuing my own growth and development personally, professionally, and spiritually – things I’ve been learning and observing from Marc, Steven Shomler, and Robert Kennedy III, among others – I committed to showing up at a face to face meeting of other writers weekly on Sunday afternoons. I over scheduled and over committed to four different meetings/gatherings today, all four of which are important in this journey I’m on. These four things were taking place in two different parts of town. The writer’s meeting was the outlier. It was also the meeting in the middle, meaning hauling my laptop on multiple public transportation vehicles, and cutting times short on attending a couple of events, including the writer’s meet-up.
The temptation to blow off the writer’s meet up would have been significant and easy to succumb to, even as recently as last month. The impulse was there, but without the strength and power of compulsion I previously experienced.
I have been the only one to show up and I knew someone new had signed up to join in. So, I just sent a message that I would likely be up to an hour late and informed the hostess of the last event that these other things had been committed to first and that I would be there late. It worked out that I got a ride to the writer’s meeting. I’m very glad I made the commitment and followed through. The opportunity to discuss and encourage another writer in how she’s growing and developing her voice was immeasurably rewarding for me personally. It’s odd and a bit surreal for me.
I often find it difficult to believe that I have much to offer others. Living in subsidized housing, not having an income of my own, along with the layers of mental and physical health issues, combined with the relational issues between me and my loved ones, make it easy to believe I am valueless. The guilt, shame, and self-blame that I’ve immersed myself in for so long has played into and been exacerbated by the bipolar II and the PTSD. I believed I was my own victim and by default my victim mentality was my unrealized self-identification.
As my healing, recovery, personal, and spiritual growth has progressed over the past two and a half years, especially over the past several months, those layers of shame, self-doubt, and base fears of my insignificance in my own life have been revealed and examined. There’s still much to do, but, I’m finally through some of those toughest outer layers. Somehow, that is starting to show through to others.
I’m still in the habit of thinking less of myself than I do of others. i value and hold others in greater esteem than I do myself. One day I will move beyond the need to rate and weigh myself against others. So, going to a meeting of writers, people who have either had their work published or are degreed and educated in their fields, who have been actively working on their craft for a while and appear to have lives they’ve built to support their passion and ambitions, while I’ve been living in my self-imposed victimhood, is a daunting task. I typically prepare myself to be awed and amazed by them and to learn from them. So, when one of them shows up and asks for my feedback and advice, I’m surprised, but offer my perspective and thoughts openly and honestly.
At today’s meeting, a young woman, who is from another culture with an amazing story of her own, was there and our conversation centered around helping her to think of ways to discover and develop her voice and identify what she wants to say, to whom, and how to do that. The newest member engaged and participated in the discussion in ways that grew and challenged me, as well. By the end of it, I’d grown in the realization and understanding that both of these people valued my presence and perspective, that I’d brought something to the table besides my own need and hunger. It was humbling and uplifting for me at the same time.
The other woman left with ideas and hope for the direction she’s going in with her writing. The other writer and I really hadn’t worked on our own projects and it was approaching closing time for the venue we met at. We were preparing to leave and confirming our intentions to meet again next week. An older gentleman approached our table and asked me if I had been a student at a high school he’d taught at. I was a bit disconcerted.
We wound up talking about my experiences in middle school and the high school. I honestly don’t remember this teacher, though he was vaguely familiar to me. I asked him about the one teacher who impacted my life and had probably been the single most positive and constructive influence in my young life. It turns out they are good friends and still connected.
The thing that stands out most to me about this encounter is that this man recognized me. He remembered my voice, my mannerisms, and my face. He had cared enough about me as a student that those aspects of me had stayed with him, to the point that 30 years later, he made the effort to reach out and reconnect with me. He genuinely cared about and wanted to know who I am and what had happened with me in my life.
I was as open and honest in that conversation with him as I had been in the earlier conversation with the other writer. Only, this time it was intensely personal. I shared about how dissociated and disconnected I had been and the fact that I had been affected by my mother’s suicide when I was twelve. I spoke of the bullying and sense of displacement I’d had at not only being a stranger from a strange land in the midst of my peers, but also the fact that my experience of being non-white, from the lower socio-economic part of society in what was then a predominantly white, middle-class population had been an unspoken factor in my choices to flunk myself out of the honors classes he taught and later to drop out of school, subsequently becoming a teen mom. I explained it has happened because I’d already given up on myself and didn’t believe in my own potential, despite evidence of that potential and that others believed in my potential. I explained how his friend and colleague was the only person who ever celebrated what I despised about myself and made me feel like I wasn’t a failure or judged for the path and direction my life had gone in.
By the end of it, I think all three of us were a bit emotional. I had teared up more than once. The teacher pledged to reconnect me with his friend and took his leave. My new friend was deeply affected and wound up sharing how impacted he had been by being there to witness that encounter between me and a former teacher who remembered me more than I had remembered him. He shared how unusual it was for people to connect and share on the deeper level he’d seen me do with the teacher. He shared a personal experience of his own which he felt would have been comparable and the differences between his experience and what he’d observed in mine. After all of that he offered me a ride to a nearby transit center to make my commute home easier.
By the end of the ride, we’d concluded that the inner depth he wants to achieve in order to progress in his writing, is something that I already do and that our meeting today was a manifestation of his intention and desire to grow in that direction. Similarly, my encounter with this teacher from my past was a manifestation of my intention and desire for me to let my other teacher know his impact and influence in my life.
This entire day, from the relational engagement with a new friend and potential business acquaintance this morning, our shared relational encounters with the second gathering of people, leading to the final encounter with my teacher, would not have been possible if I had not been actively facing and confronting fears, allowing myself to start trusting more in that God is who He says He is, that I am who He says I am, and that I am cared and provided for.
The externals may indicate that I have a life of poverty and lack. However, the experiences of today are revealing the abundance and provision in my life and teaching me that I am not impoverished, but have much to share freely with others.