Tuesday, October 10, 2017

The Day My English Professor Changed My Life

I wasn't expecting her to read my story to the whole class.

It was just another paper for my freshman English class. I didn't think too much about it, other than to make sure it was long enough to meet the requirements of the assignment. I finished the paper, turned it in, and that was that. I hoped it was good enough to get an "A," or at least a "B," but otherwise wasn't too concerned about it.

But, the next time the class convened the professor started the session by discussing the previous assignment, telling us what we had done right and what we had done wrong. She then stated that she was going to read one of the better examples in order to show us what she had expected from us on the assignment.

When I realized that she was reading aloud the words I had written, I was both ecstatic and mortified. I was ecstatic because, out of all the people in the class, she had chosen my paper! She thought it was well-written and funny! She thought it was good. I was mortified because my paper detailed a very personal story about the embarrassing events of a date I went on in high school. As my English professor read my story to the class my face turned several shades of red as I vacillated between pride in my writing and horror that details of my social ineptitude were being given to the entire class, including that really cute girl who sat in front of me.

In the end, the happiness and pride I had in having the professor read my paper in class far outweighed any negativity I might have feared because of it. (Let's be honest: there was no way I would have had the guts to ask that girl out anyway.)

That English professor's name was Elouise Bell. She passed away last week, and as I read a tribute to her, I thought about how my life was changed by that one time she read my paper in class. I'd like to say that from that moment on I worked closely with Elouise, honed my writing skills, and became a world-famous writer. No, that's not how things turned out. Unfortunately, after that one class I never saw Elouise Bell again, and I've wandered through life spending most of my time working as a truck driver.

My freshman English professor, Elouise Bell. (She laughed at me once.)

But, that one semester with Elouise Bell did help instill in me a love of writing, and I've carried that with me for all these years. Whenever anyone asks what my hobbies are, or what I enjoy doing with my free time, writing is near the top of the list.

I wish I still had that story from my freshman English class. I'd like to read it again, to see if I can still see in it what Elouise Bell saw in it that day. (The paper was about my semi-disastrous date to the Homecoming dance my senior year in high school. I wrote about it again a few years ago, if you care to take a look.)

I only took one class from her, more than thirty years ago. And yet, when I heard of her passing I couldn't help but think of how an encouraging word or two helped shape my life. There's a lot of negativity in the world today. Too much negativity. Maybe we should try a different approach. Maybe we could try to encourage each other. You never know how much influence for good you might have on someone's life.

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