A couple days ago I used a quote from the movie Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont about destiny. That movie has stuck with me for a few days now. I keep looking to see when it will replay so that I can record it to the DVR.
The film is based on the 1971 novel, same title, written by Elizabeth Taylor, the novelist. It is the story of the friendship that ensues between Mrs. Palfrey, played by Joan Plowright, and Ludovic Meyer, played by Rupert Friend. Mrs. Palfrey has pretty much been abandoned by her family and lives in the London retirement hotel The Claremont. Ludovic Meyer is a young writer. Fate brings them together when she has an accident outside his apartment. The two friends find they have a lot more in common than they do with people their own age. Through their friendship Ludovic helps Mrs. Palfrey through her past, and Mrs. Palfrey helps Ludovic to his future.
I was genuinely moved by this movie. Being a romantic, yes I can admit that fact, I have always loved a great story that deals with fate or destiny even if it is sappy, e.g.,Serendipity. At the end of the movie Ludovic is walking towards his girlfriend, Gwendolyn, after seeing Mrs. Palfrey, and the voice over reveals to us Ludovic’s thoughts.
“There are people that cross our lives in tiny fractions of time, in the briefest of encounters, and yet they leave an indelible mark in our hearts and our minds.”
I can think of different people that I’ve met over the years that in one way or another left a mark on my life. For better or worse, much of whom we are grows out of those encounters.
One such encounter that I have always looked back on was during my sophomore year of high school in Spring Hill, Kansas. Her name was Mrs. Susan Dortch, my debate coach/teacher. I was in school in Spring Hill for only a semester but that semester made a huge impact in my life in so many ways. I am typically a shy person. People who know me or meet me now find this hard to believe. Up until my sophomore year any time that I had an oral report at school or had to stand up in front of people, I would find some way to skip or get out of the situation. Talking to a female was an even more daunting task.
When my family moved to Spring Hill I was still in the stage of my life that I wanted to be a lawyer and then maybe go into politics. I hadn’t really given much thought to the fact that both careers require you to be in front of people a lot. So, when I registered for school I chose to take debate because I figured it would help with my future career. I didn’t think of the fact that I would have to speak in front of people.
The first day of school arrived. Every first day of school is dreaded. No one, not even teachers, are ready to give up their summer. For me, it wasn’t just giving up my summer, it was the reality that I was walking into a school where I knew no one. I had been in this situation before because my family moved a lot, but every new first day in a new place scared the living hell out of me. That first day meant some teachers asking me questions about who I am and where I’m from in front of the class. It meant my revealing my southern drawl in a place where there was no twang. It meant new girls to want to talk to but never having the balls to even approach them. What I didn’t realize the morning of that first day was it would be the beginning of a new me.
The moment I walked into Mrs. Dortch’s classroom my fear of speaking in front of people came rushing at me like a rabid dog protecting its domain, but there was no turning back. All I could do was stand face to face with this fear. As I took my seat, and Mrs. Dortch began the class I felt a sense of assurance. There was something about her demeanor that relaxed me. I remember she had a smile that made me feel as though we were old friends, and when she spoke it wasn’t just her voice that communicated, it was her face and her hands. She was excited and that made me excited. Slowly the fear was retreating.
The moment I felt safe was the moment I let my guard down, and the fear was biting at my leg, growling louder than ever. Mrs. Dortch told the class that we would each stand up and give a short speech introducing ourselves and telling the class something about ourselves. I was like a little boy who was going to his first swimming lesson. When he gets to the pool he realizes that not only must he face his fear of water, but also the fear of being seen in his swimming trunks in front of the opposite sex. Then, rather than the instructor letting him get use to the water, the instructor tells him to jump in immediately. We all have fears. Some are good, but most are bad. Sometimes, all you can do is jump and trust that the risk that you feel you are taking by standing against your fears will result in a wonderful victory.
I have often thought back on that day in Mrs. Dortch’s class and how that first jump prepared me for many other jumps in life. From that day forward, every day of speaking in front of people got a little bit easier. She taught me how not to be afraid to be me, even if it means saying “ya’ll” or “yonder.” She put in me a love for communicating and speaking in front of people. I never did pursue being a lawyer or President of the United States. Rather, I became a speaker, teacher, and a writer. I don’t know that Mrs. Dortch ever knew the impact of knowing her for one semester made on my life, but she was one person who in the briefest encounter, left an indelible mark on my heart and mind. So I write this in honor of her. Thank you Mrs. Dortch.
Any of you have an encounter with someone or something that left an indelible mark in your heart and mind? Maybe you want to share, but maybe you don’t. Let me encourage you to at least remember that moment and be thankful for the difference it made in your life.