After yesterday’s discussion on legacy, I spent some time looking up my mentors. I found out that two of my biggest influencers had passed away several years back. We lost touch after time and I hadn’t seen them for years. While I was reading their obituaries, I realized I had wasted so much time focused in my own world, lost in what I was doing and what I was trying to accomplish that I completely lost sight of the lessons these wonderful people taught me. Sadness washed over me at the thought of letting them down. I don’t even remember if I told them how much they meant to me.
One of them was my college humanities professor. I didn’t know him long but his class changed my life. Early in my time with him, he taught a lesson about decision making and referenced kicking a wall. I laughed out loud and he said to the class, “Yeah, she has kicked the wall a few times.” The way he looked at me wasn’t judgmental or critical—it was with complete understanding of my young humanness. That look said, “We’ve all been there. Welcome.” It resonated with everything I was experiencing at the time, dealing with a personal trauma and recovery.
He took us through many lessons comparing who we used to be as a society and how we have continued some of those traditions today. He wanted us to see that, even though we believed we were ever so evolved, we retain much of the same traditions from thousands of years ago. He spoke of looking through different lenses and seeing all viewpoints. During one lesson he said, “Sometimes you have to see that 2 and 2 equal 5.” It blew my mind. Sometimes things don’t go how we plan or we see people doing things differently than we do—it doesn’t matter. I remember we were discussing Oedipus and no one answered his first question so he walked out of the room stating if we weren’t going to have a discussion then he wasn’t going to teach. Always come prepared! My favorite thing about him was that, no matter what he taught us, whether it was about rose windows or about cross cultural homecoming traditions, he always used his own slides. The man traveled around the world and he had a personal account for nearly every lesson he created. He taught us all to take chances because you never know the lesson you’re really learning. For our final, he talked to each of us individually about our papers. During our meeting, he held my paper in his hand and he looked at me and he said, “You understand all of this stuff, you’re going to be just fine.” Maybe it was just the timing of my life, but those simple words carried me further than he would ever know.
One of my greatest mentors was my high school French teacher. I have more stories about her than will fit the page. She was a short, slightly rotund woman, with a deep yet feminine voice who came across as your favorite grandma. When you started speaking with her, you immediately understood she was no one to fool with—sweet as pie, but she knew her stuff. Worldly, wise, welcoming, she embraced life and never hid her passions. She spoke of choosing to speak French when she was younger because it was pretty—and she went on to make an entire career out of it. She taught me that following your passion brings you to your purpose, even if it started because you thought it was pretty. She had planned to retire my sophomore year but stayed with our group until our graduation, two years later. She believed that what you started, you finished and she wanted to see us to the end.
I developed a real talent for the language and she spoke to me about it, never pushing it, just wanting me to enjoy it. She made me student of the quarter, the president of French NHS, and she awarded me the French senior medallion for my efforts. She brought us to plays and musicals and operas and shared her love of the French culture in every way she could. We always celebrated Mardi Gras with King Cake and she made crepes before school started at least once or twice a month. More than that, she was there for me after I started cutting again and she supported me through a toxic high school relationship. She told me, “I know it’s hard but it is not worth your time to deal with un salopard like that.” Yes, she taught me to swear in French and it was a uniquely bonding experience. We read “The Little Prince” in French and watched the original “La Belle et Le Bete” and she loved bringing us across the world. I sang at her retirement party. We kept in touch after I graduated and, as more time passed, my life took over. To some degree that is exactly what she wanted—to embrace life and to live. Let go of the nonsense and simply do what you love without shame and without holding back. Create a life you love, a room full of cherished treasures because they are all memories.
For both of these extraordinary people, I am incredibly grateful. My life has been all the better for them. Even if I hadn’t seen them recently, I have always carried those lessons, the memories with me. It isn’t lost on me that some of my greatest teachers were actually teachers—I’ve always had a lot to learn. There are always people who impact us and their lesson goes far beyond the classroom. Often times it has nothing to do with what you’re studying at all. It’s about life itself and those are the people I admire most. Taking their passions and applying it to everything they do, applying it to life, and sharing it with everyone they meet. It is who they are to their core. I am so glad to have had two amazing experiences in my life, at different points, that carried me through. I still kick the wall sometimes, and I often dream in French—my heart knows where to go.
In memory of Hans Dahl and Madame Kathleen Gabbey, thank you.