Most of us have a special teacher, school counselor or college professor who somehow changed our life for the better. We remember these folks fondly, yet we rarely follow up on the long overdue “Thank you,” which they so heartily deserve. Maybe that is why I’m such a sucker for those Hallmark commercials portraying a deserving mentor finally receiving a card which expresses exactly what I’ve never said.
For example, my favorite spot features a retiring professor who is busy clearing his office of the evidence of his decades spent teaching. While he is rummaging through papers and boxing up books, a former student who is now a middle-aged woman walks in and offers him a greeting card. The curmudgeonly old professor momentarily stops his tasks and opens the card. He can’t find his glasses, so the student reads the message of gratitude the card expresses, then anxiously awaits his reaction. After all, when someone has been a supportive teacher, they forever hold this place of respect in our hearts.
Over a decade ago, I think it might have been this classic commercial that originally provided the catalyst for me to visit one of my favorite instructors. I had heard through the college grapevine that “Doc” was failing physically and mentally, and that he had been placed in a nursing facility. I was saddened by this news, because I had not only been his student, but I had once worked for this brilliant man.
As a student employee, Doc’s inability to understand that not everyone was as bright as him had been a bit of a challenge for me in the beginning. To explain, one day as a senior business major, he innocently asked if I would be able to oversee his economics class the following afternoon. Being enrolled in the course myself, I knew that particular day’s schedule was to be an explanation of the computation of the Gross National Product. Therefore, I frantically explained to Doc that I could answer his phones and grade his tests, but I was presently unable to compute the GNP.
It was also during this senior year of college in the early eighties that I was blessed to serve a year’s internship at my local newspaper, The Lima News, under the direction of then city editor, Mike Lackey. Under this award-winning journalist’s watchful eye, I learned to report about everything from election night results to a Toledo businessman’s ordeal of being held captive by Venezuelan terrorists.
Apparently, my love for journalism and the English language didn’t escape Doc’s watchful eye. One day, as graduation loomed on the horizon, I asked him what he thought I should do with my life. Barely looking up from the stacks of books and endless papers that covered his office desk, he told me that I should write.
This advice left me somewhat bewildered, because I had studied diligently to finish my business degree. Therefore, I assumed my professor would say I was destined to be an international business diva. Besides, I was the single mom of a toddler, and needed more financial security than an uncertain career in journalism could provide. As a result, I didn’t heed his wise counsel for many years.
I remembered all of this the evening when I went to visit Doc at the nursing home.
On that particular night, Doc’s eyes investigated my once familiar face searching for recognition. Then he reached for my hand, and asked, “What do you do?”
“I’m a writer,” I said explaining that he was once my professor and had told me to write. Doc, who was in his eighties by then, was confined to a wheelchair. His silver-hair fell to one side as he struggled to hold his head upright. Still there was that kind smile that I had grown so fond of long ago.
For a moment, Doc looked deeply concerned about my career choice then he hesitatingly asked how it turned out. I leaned down and assured him that it turned out OK. “I’ve written a couple books,” I said. Instantly, a smile of satisfaction slowly formed on his lips. Doc is gone now, but even near the end, he was ever the consummate professor who wanted his students to do well. Sadly, I didn’t have a Hallmark card to pull out of my purse to say “Thanks.” Instead I just smiled back and squeezed his wrinkled hand.
Christina Ryan Claypool is a freelance journalist and inspirational speaker. Contact her through her Website at www.christinaryanclaypool.com