Influence of others occurs throughout our lives upon reflection...
here are a few from my youth.
There are people who make a difference in our lives at every age throughout our lifetime. Some we remember quite vividly. I strongly believe that we have some slight impact on just about everyone with whom we come in contact and they us.
I thought I'd take the time one of these days to list all the people I've met and recall as having made a difference in my life. Perhaps, given my belief about how we all impact each other in minor to major ways, an abbreviated list might be in order, in which I would simply include those who had the most profound impact on my life. Actually, as I think about important others, at any given time an individual might be having a significant impact, but then in the scheme of a whole life, the impact could ultimately become much less significant. I could not possibly list everyone who comes to mind. I do want to mention a few here from that well-known group called teachers, who dedicate their lives to trying to make a difference in the lives of others. They are generally quite successful in doing so, though they may not always know they have been, or receive the acknowledgement and recognition to which they are entitled.
Certainly, my life was impacted by teachers I encountered at various life stages. Some, I would say, even most teachers, were a very positive influence, but as with any group, there are always those few who, however unintentionally, are otherwise. I prefer to think of the more positive ones, those whose expectations and efforts to expose their students, including me, to new ideas, experiences and expression of thoughts come readily to mind.
Regrettably, I don't recall ever having an opportunity to express my appreciation to far too many people, including some of these teachers, who have crossed my path in a meaningful positive manner. For some, what would I say? I recall in the fifth grade Miss Barroway asking me one day, to take over from her reading the spelling words to the class. I felt very surprised and proud to have been selected, especially considering not too many days before that, I had received several whacks on the knuckles of each hand from a wooden ruler wielded unmercifully by her. I had been caught writing a note to my boy friend, Dwight.
I also had quite mixed feelings as to why I was being asked to stand before the class and read these spelling words, since I had been observing her closely when she had begun reading from the word list, and I knew something was wrong. I was distracted seeing the throbbing, blood flow pulsating in her neck's left artery that looked most unusual to me. I walked to the front of the class, began slowly reading one spelling word at a time as she left the room. Later our principal, Miss Broome, told us our teacher had a heart attack. After some days had passed, I learned she was safely recovering. The knuckle whacks she gave me were extremely painful and potentially injurious. They would not be tolerated today. On the other hand, my being selected to read the spelling words suggested to me I did have some redeeming qualities in her eyes.
What a contrast with a college instructor I had, with whom I exchanged annual holiday greeting letters each year as long as she was able, well into her nineties. Just before she finally had to relinquish living in the home she had shared first with her parents and then by herself, I indulged what I thought to be a selfish pleasure, when over some period of time, the impulse to do so simply would not go away -- I phoned Miss Harton. I kept remembering with pride for her that a few years earlier, a brand new theatre complex was built on campus which bore her name.
This call and the conversation which ensued turned out to be more than welcomed by her. I told her the reason for my call was simply to thank her for all she had contributed to my life. I described her now incidental actions which had so affected my life then, how I had been influenced, how she had been on the cutting edge of innovation with a new idea she brought us following her summer leave to work on her master's degree out of state. She responded that in all of her years of teaching there were individual students that stood out in her mind, but she had never had so many at one time as in our particular group of six, a small part of a much larger class. Our conversation ended with her saying to me, "You've made my day!" I could only respond, "You didn't just make my day, you made my life."
Another one of the individuals I so wanted to thank had departed this life by the time I made an effort many years ago to locate her. Mrs. Eastburn was without question the best teacher I had in high school, who truly made an effort to prepare each of us for life, death and especially to attend college for any of us who might so aspire. She was demanding of us, not without humor, but with high expectations for our performance in her English class. I'm sure our writing efforts must have contributed to humor in her life, too, such as can be read HERE.
She went to great lengths to make arrangements for us to travel from our suburban rural setting school into the nearby city to see Lawrence Oliver in a special showing re-release of the 1948 black and white movie Hamlet which he directed long before he was knighted "Sir Lawrence." We had been reading some of Shakespeare's works in class. I was young and impressionable as Shakespeare's words penetrated the stillness of the darkened theater auditorium, coming alive for me as I viewed the movie. I became unabashedly enamoured with Shakespeare, "Hamlet," Lawrence Oliver, acting. My love of language was reinforced.
Mrs. Eastburn also required us to read, explain, memorize, and recite the last verse of William Cullen Bryant's poem "Thanatopsis." We even had to write a paper about the value of memorization. There were many plays with memorable lines as a student/amateur, in which I have acted, directed, or judged. They included high school's relatively unknown "Drums of Death," through obligatory one to three act perpetually performed college plays, a live local TV drama, and subsequent little theatre productions in which memorization has been crucial.
In college there was "Don Juan In Hell" inviting the audience upon their entrance to "Give up all hope, ye who enter here" (here and here) in which our cast's production included our soon-to-be Dean of Students, the son of a well-known actor of his time, Guy Kibbee. Then there were Portia's often repeated Shakespearean lines from The Merchant of Venice: "The quality of mercy is not strain'd, it droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven upon the place beneath..."
All these words, but through the years those that periodically always come to mind are in the last verse of the one repeated here in tribute to Mrs. Eastburn. The thoughts expressed in this poem's verse contributed to the formulation of my perception of death. I believe our culture could benefit immensely by more freely embracing comfortable discussion of death throughout our lifetimes without avoidance of the topic, becoming afraid, or resorting to denial, but instead accepting that, indeed, life and death are parts of a connected circle. Whenever, at whatever age dying becomes our life experience, we will have long since made our preparation by embracing these words:
"So live, that when thy summons comes to join
The innumerable caravan, which moves
To that mysterious realm, where each shall take
His chamber in the silent halls of death,
Thou go not, like the quarry-slave at night,
Scourged to his dungeon, but, sustained and soothed
By an unfaltering trust, approach thy grave
Like one who wraps the drapery of his couch
About him, and lies down to pleasant dreams. "
Thanatopsis by William Cullen Bryant 1794-1878