August 22, 2014
I discovered my love for writing as a high school student.
Most students at Hermiston High School in Eastern Oregon probably saw me as introverted, shy and quiet. I was not bullied, but not popular – just a semi-invisible guy trying to get through the days and weeks.
I had friends. I had crushes. I had awkward inner feelings. Often feeling a bit out of sync, I was grateful for those few true friends that I had. Looking back, it’s evident my feelings of self-doubt and lack of confidence were probably more internally sourced then a result of what people thought of me.
English, spelling, and reading were perennial favorites. English composition was a new thing although I enjoyed writing assignments in previous English classes. It was more enjoyable than diagramming, which is a skill that seems unfortunately to be mostly lost now.
Mrs. Burns had a way of bringing out the best in me. I enjoyed her assignments. A couple of them stand out to me still today.
In one, Mrs. Burns gave us a list of 10 words. She instructed us to write a story using those 10 words in context. I found that challenge was exciting, came easily, and was enjoyable. It stirred my creativity and spurred my pencil.
I wrote a story about an odd man in his small country town who managed to steal the town’s only gas pump. I thought it was funny, and I could hardly keep from laughing as I read the story to the class. I don’t think the students got the humor that I saw, oddball as it was, but I will never forget what one person said.
My spirit soared
My desk was in the back, in one of the middle rows. She, Molly, was sitting in the front. She was a popular girl – a cheerleader. She had turned in her seat and was looking back as I read the story. When I was done, she said this: “What an amazing talent!” Whether her assessment was correct or not, my spirit soared. My mental response was “Really? I have talent?” Molly, wherever you are, I thank you profoundly. How often those few words have encouraged me.
The primary assignment I remember from Mrs. Burns’ class that spring was to read a book called “The Bridge over the River Kwai”. The story caught my imagination, which absorbed pictures of the horrors and travail suffered by captured American soldiers in that Japanese prison camp, as they were forced to build a bridge for the enemy.
In the end, the Americans were victorious. Since you may have never read the book, I won’t describe what happened, but it was a triumph of human spirit and ingenuity.
Our assignment was to write chapter summaries. Then, going deeper, we were to respond to and interact with the events and characters. We were to put ourselves in the story and try to discern the motives of the individuals, including the leader of the prison camp and the leader of the Americans. These were open-ended essay questions – my favorite.
The words flowed
I wrote and wrote, imagining the situations and circumstances. I guessed at the thoughts and motives of the men. My hand could hardly keep up with the narratives racing in my mind.
That assignment was my favorite one in high school by a great distance. It was a highlight. If only I’d kept the manuscript, if for no other reason than to see now if it really was so good.
A little encouragement goes a long ways
Near the end of the school year, Mrs. Burns called me aside to her desk as I was leaving the room. She told me this: “What ever you do in life, make sure it has something to do with communication.”
That has stayed with me all of my days. One of my regrets is that I did not pay more devoted attention to her admonition. By the grace of God, my work has involved a lot of communication. I wish I had been more deliberate in my college studies to pursue the craft.
My days in high school were not highly joyful. But these are burning highlights which still encourage and inspire me.
Thank you Molly Hoover, and thank you Mrs. Eunice Burns.
Why not share with me a significant time in your life when you were also encouraged?