Has someone ever changed your life with just a few words? Years ago, that happened to me. In fact, a three-minute conversation gave me the vision to get an education. The summer before I entered seventh grade, I met Doris Schumacher, a teacher visiting her elderly Aunt Minnie, who lived across the street from my family and for whom I often ran errands. Back then, schoolteachers frightened me because they didn’t have to be politically correct and several had ridiculed my Appalachian speech patterns. Thus, I immediately was intimidated by Doris, too.
But she smiled and said, “Aunt Minnie tells me you’re going into junior high this fall. Tell me, what do you like to study?”
I was surprised by her question. I usually heard only “How’s school?” from adults. But I stammered, “I like to read, and I like history.”
“That’s wonderful,” she said. “I teach eighth-grade English and social studies in Minneapolis. What do you like to read?”
Two direct questions from an adult? Again stammering, I told her about the books I had read the past week. “Good choices,” she said. Her Aunt Minnie entered the room then with the letters she wanted me to mail. As I said goodbye, Doris said, “I assume you’re nervous about going into junior high. Don’t be; you’ll do just fine!”
The conversation maybe had taken only three minutes, but by the time I walked across the street and up our front steps to check in with my parents before the errand, I determined to be a teacher someday “just like Doris!”
Decades ago, no women in my extended family had attended college, so my announcement was new territory. But I pulled the dream into my heart and, with God’s grace and my perseverance, gained the B.A. and M.A. degrees that gave me 15 years in a Detroit-area classroom. Later, those same degrees opened the door for me to pursue an editing career and rebuild my life after my husband died.
Doris is in heaven now, but she and I maintained contact after her dear aunt’s death. In fact, her letters and calls encouraged me through college, my teaching career and even as I entered the editing world. One snowy morning, as we chatted over long-distance phone lines, she commented about how far I had come since my school days.
“You’re a big part of that success,” I said. “You gave me the vision to go to college.” Then I began to tell her about the long-ago meeting.
She interrupted me. “No, dear,” she said. “The first time I met you was when you were 15 and with Aunt Minnie at the hospital after she’d broken her hip.”
“Oh, no, Doris,” I insisted. “I was 12. You visited her in August before school started. You stood by the oak table in her front room. The sun was coming through the lace curtains and . . . .”
She interrupted again. “Oh, my dear,” she said. “I don’t remember that at all.”
I chuckled. “It’s okay, Doris,” I said. “That morning only changed my life!” And, truly, it did.
Perhaps you wish you had met a Doris early in your life, too. Oh, I wish you had! But if you didn’t have a Doris, you can be a Doris—and your kind words may change a life. Just as they changed mine.
I would love to hear your stories of the power of encouragement. Please share them on FaceBook or LinkedIn.