In middle school (wait! don’t click away!), my English teacher’s name was Mrs. Goodman. She was stylish and she knew her stuff. There is a lot about Mrs. Goodman that I don’t remember, because I really didn’t think she knew much about me. I figured I was just another student in her class. She didn’t play favorites. She was tough and her voice was raspy and I could never reconcile her tough-as-nails exterior with her sleek and fashionable outfits. Sometimes, I remember, she wore her dark hair in a bun on top of her head. She wore slacks and skirts which, in retrospect, I realize must have been tailored to fit—the lines were so perfect and the cut just right. And, she wore blouses and jewelry—bracelets and rings and earrings—that added just the right amount of class in a world of teachers who wore sensible shoes and polyester pantsuits everyday.
Mrs. Goodman may have been my first fashion icon.
One day (I’m not sure how it happened—a letter to my parents? a talk with Mrs. Goodman after class?), I found out there had been an essay contest and Mrs. Goodman had submitted an essay I wrote. As luck would have it, I won that contest, which meant I’d be having lunch at the Silverdome where I’d receive an award from the Governor of Michigan.
It was the first time I remember anyone taking notice of my writing. I wasn’t really sure what to think about that. Writing wasn’t anything to which I gave a lot of thought. I just…wrote. I figured everyone wrote. I thought everyone had a journal and that they filled pages and pages with their thoughts and imaginations, way into the early morning hours. Writing was like breathing for me and so, the thought that anyone should get an award for breathing seemed odd to me. The thought that a teacher would take note of my writing and submit an essay of mine without my knowledge because she saw something in me that meant something special to her? Well, I had no frame of reference for something like that.
I have no idea what I wrote in that essay. I don’t remember if I read from it at the awards ceremony, or if I simply accepted my certificate, ate my lunch, had my picture taken with the Governor and the other essay contestants and went home. I remember I wore my favorite outfit, and my wedge heels, and I hoped I looked as stylish as my teacher. And I remember—along with my mom and dad—Mrs. Goodman sat at that round table with the cloth napkins and the white tablecloth, right next to me. In the pictures my parents gave me this week while I visited them, you can see Mrs. Goodman, talking to me in one picture, and then you can see the back of her head, watching as I accepted my award.
It’s a big deal to have someone believe in you enough to make the Governor take notice.
Over the years, the role Mrs. Goodman played in my life has become more and more significant to me. I honestly didn’t appreciate it, and I couldn’t really comprehend it, back in middle school. But, having Mrs. Goodman believe in me, when I was in middle school is one of those Ebenezer moments in my life. I didn’t realize it, then, but I’m pretty sure God was behind the scenes in that whole thing.
Because, after I started writing on this little blog, a strange thing happened. People started reading this blog. And then, people started saying things that included phrases like, “You should write a book…” and I kept thinking those people were kind, but that they didn’t really know what they were talking about. Even when actual authors with published books and people who publish actual books began to talk to me about writing a book, I found it difficult to give myself over to any ideas other than thinking they were simply being nice.
It’s not that I had any great dreams of writing a book. I didn’t. I don’t. But, when people start saying things like that to you, you begin to wonder where, in the midst of the kind and sincere words of encouragement, is the truth? And for me, my mind kept going back to Mrs. Goodman who, without my knowledge, submitted my essay to a writing contest, back in 1978. Way before any talk of a blog and before bloggers started getting book contracts and before I’d ever heard a word about acquisitions editors.
When people started talking to me about writing books and things, and I wondered if they were simply being kind, what I started to remember, all these years later, is that Mrs. Goodman submitted my essay, and my essay won first prize in the whole state of Michigan, and that I sat at a round table in the Silverdome, in the same room with the Governor. “You’re a good writer,” Mrs. Goodman said to me. And today, when my mom stood by me as I sat on her sofa, typing away on this laptop of mine, and my mom handed me four pictures of that day in May, 1978, it was just what I needed: my mom and dad reminding me that, all those years ago, someone—besides the people who couldn’t help but cheer for me because of our shared DNA—believed something big for me, and that it was okay to step through that door to see how this whole thing plays out.
Who are the people that believe in you, and see something in you that you don’t see in yourself? How can you let someone know you believe in them?