Last night at dinner Rivers asked her dad and I who inspired us when we were growing up. Wow. What a question. And the answer could not be God.
I told her I needed a few minutes to think about it. In the meantime Shannon explained how he had two uncles growing up that both died young. Each of them, Wendell and William, inspired him as a kid. They loved to hunt and fish and they spent time with him. Next, we asked Leah. She needed to know what “inspire” meant, so I explained it’s someone who you can admire…a quality you see in someone who makes you want to be more like them or have that quality, too. Her answer came fast. “Eric and Ariel” she said. Because he is cute and she is a mermaid. Smile…my soon to be kindergartener has a thing about mermaids. She really wants to be one!
As I sat at the table with my family, I tried to skim over the years of my life and events or people who made a difference. Reached me in some way. Coaxed a bit more of the bloom out of who I was meant to be. Of course there were a number of people in my life that helped shape me and support me in critical ways. But then I remembered my junior year of high school.
I had Ms. Parker for English. That was a crazy class. Crazy. Poor Ms. Parker, a first year teacher who did not have the easiest year. Matter-of-fact, she left our high school after that first year! She needed some mentoring from my senior year english teacher, Mrs. Ellis, who no one dared cross, disrespect or even pretend to mock. (I know my friend Jenny will share a smile with me as she sat behind me in Mrs. Ellis’s class) I learned a lot in Mrs. Ellis’s class. She was the teacher you did not want, did not!, but goodness did you have to bring your “A” game to her class! Anyhow, I digress…
So, junior year in Ms. Parker’s class we had a unit on poetry. I can hardly recall any structure or actual learning in that class, but what I do recall beamed through at me like a ray of sunshine last night…my discovery of a poem by Maya Angelou: “Prescience.” Like most sixteen-year-old girls I was a bit dramatic in high school. Ahhh, perhaps an under statement. But, nevertheless, the way she described her heartbreak in that poem…the words she used…the picture she painted in just a handful of stanzas…drew me in. I don’t remember the details, but I know I used that poem in my assignment as well as wrote some of my own poems to be turned in. I remember Ms. Parker calling me over to her desk one day shortly after turning in the assignment and seriously questioning me about whether I had written the poems I turned in. I answered honestly, yes these are the ones I wrote. And that was it. I went back to my seat. As an adult I look back and realize my teacher could have encouraged me, recognized within me an ability, but she didn’t do that. I don’t think she believed me but there was nothing she could do since of course she could not find the poems I wrote anywhere else! And I couldn’t see that my teacher suspecting I had copied the poems from a book was meaningful. A sign of something meant to be tended and nurtured. Signs I ask God to help me see in my girls as they grow up. But Maya Angelou, yes, she certainly inspired me that year. This morning I fished a book of her poems from my bookshelf and found that poem (“The Complete Collected Poems of Maya Angelou” 1994):
Had I known that the heart
breaks slowly, dismantling itself
into unrecognizable plots of
Had I known the heart would leak,
slobbering its sap, with a vulgar
visibility, into dressed-up
dining rooms of strangers,
Had I known that loneliness could
keloid, winding itself around the
body in an ominous and beautiful
Had I known, yet I would have loved
you, your brash and insolent beauty,
your heavy comedic face
and knowledge of sweet
But from a distance.
I would have left you whole and wholly
for the delectation of those who
wanted more and cared less.
As I spoke up for my turn at the table and tried to explain about this poet who inspired me in high school, Rivers exclaimed, “You write a blog!” As if she could draw the most simple and bold line from the way the words of a poem stirred a love of words within me and the way I use words now. She ran out of the room and came back with a sweet gift my friend Brigit had made for me last year, a book of my first year of blog posts. Rivers held it up like a trophy and I just smiled because when I see that book, I mostly see a friend who loves me enough to do something so significant for me. Smile…
Before my turn was over, I thought of another person who inspired me and I shared with my girls about my friend Crystal. I explained how when I was in college I worked at a bookstore and there met a girl who loved others with a very sincere and unconditional love, so much like Jesus, without ever trying to seem important while doing it. Crystal was almost two years younger than me, so it wasn’t maturity that comes with age and not caring what others thought. No, when I met her as a coworker she was still in high school. She was funny and pretty and matter-of-fact, she was the homecoming queen at her school during her senior year. But she wasn’t your average homecoming queen. She was truly loved and liked by people around her. She was kind. She was helpful. She was encouraging. Crystal was the kind of person who would go on a date with a guy, regardless of his looks or popularity, simply because he was nice enough to ask and want to take her out. For me, at nineteen, she was something I hadn’t quite encountered before. She didn’t preach at people or tell them how to pray the “right” way or convince them of which denomination had it right. And she didn’t seem fazed if someone else thought she was less spiritual if she wasn’t just like them or their church. She loved Jesus and she loved others. Plain and simple. I haven’t seen her in years, but she made a mark on my life. She inspired me to see that spiritual gifts do not equal spiritual fruit. And spiritual fruit…love, patience, kindness, self-control…reach others and stay with them long after that person is gone.
Lastly, we asked Rivers who inspires her so far. Here is her answer:
First, Amelia Earhart. Because she was brave! She said to herself, even if I die I am going across the ocean! She did not let anything stop her because she was so brave. And Thomas Edison. He did not give up on that light bulb! He kept trying and kept trying and kept trying and would not give up!
Wendell and William. Maya and Crystal. Amelia and Thomas. Some of us are known by the world and some of us known by only a few, yet we can touch the lives of others in ways we might never know. I don’t know what God has planned for my first-born, but I believe she will need to be brave and know how to persevere (never give up!). I believe she will need a person or two who will do the simple things of life and just take time with her like Shannon’s uncles did with him. I believe she will need her heart stirred with passion by passionate people. I believe she will not only need a Crystal, I believe she will be a Crystal. God gives us what we need and helps us be what someone else needs.
Be inspired. You never know how you, in turn, will inspire somone else.