Day 17: Chère Madame Douglas

*Day 17 comes to us from my friend, role model, and mentor Samantha Hartley, Founder/President of Enlightened Marketing. I’m thankful for her letter today and even more for her willingness to spend time with me and to share her insights and experience. Samantha, the answer to the question you ask in your letter is a resounding, “Yes.”*

Chère Madame Douglas,

I’ve thought of you often over the years, but never so much as this year when I turned the age you were when you died. I wonder if I’ve had on anyone the impact you had on me. I wonder if I’d only been given this many years and not another day, if I could look back on my life as complete.

I believe that people come in and out of our lives, and each of them gives us a piece of the puzzle, or maybe they plant a seed. Sometimes they’re disguised as beggars or abusers or fools, so it isn’t obvious when they’ve blessed us. Certainly anyone who is a teacher is expected to give to their students.

Yes, you taught me literally, and taught me so much. But your impact came in the form of modeling a certain way of being: cultural immersion, passionate pursuit.

As a French teacher you moonlighted as a hostess at the French restaurant to perfect your language skills. You pursued your own career development (when?) and moved from the classroom to leadership in gifted programs. I was sorry that you left teaching but loved the dedication I saw in you. You even modeled the pursuit of unexpected hobbies, like belly dancing of all things.

Your intellectual diversity influenced me greatly. It’s amazing how much of my life can be traced back to seeds planted by you:

  • Gifted education and all the creative pursuits it opened up. I can’t imagine where I’d be had you not plucked me from the main stream and identified me as different.
  • French language and culture. Although my French is probably the worst of the languages I speak, I adore it. France has been a magical place to me and I trace my love of it all, including cuisine (which I actually studied formally in Paris) back to you.  Our visit with you to Restaurant Jacques et Suzanne created a little foodie-monster!
  • Metaphysics. No one in my life had ever talked about ideas, abstractions and philosophy as you did. It’s my whole life now, seeded by you.
  • Gandhi. You took us on a field trip to see the movie, which is my all-time favorite. Again, how is it that you are the one connected to something that changed my life? It’s uncanny.
  • Russia. Five years before I moved to Russia, a place of such transformation for me, you came to our classroom. I hadn’t seen you in ages and you were just back from Russia, full of wonder for the place and all its enchantment. Was that just to reinforce for me that I would go there?

What stands out to me about our relationship is that, as a teacher who nurtured and shaped my path more than any other, there are no gushing bursts of praise or affection. I always felt from you a kind of matter-of-fact endorsement of me as the best.  I wouldn’t be surprised if others felt that from you too.

You appeared in my life at pivotal moments with those seeds. Knowing this gives me such a strong sense of meaning and design, as if life isn’t random; as if there is a support system for me that swoops in just when I need it.

I saw you the last time just a year before your death. When I think of you there, acknowledging me with your quiet smile, I imagine you knew our exchange was completed. That you’d given all you had for me in this lifetime.

I believe we’ll meet again, Mrs. Douglas, and when we do, I’ll share my amazement at the complexity of your role in my life. You’ll laugh at how long it took me to realize how interwoven you were into the tiniest yet most significant details of my journey.

And I’ll thank you so much for launching me. I will thank you for blessing me with your warmth and confidence. And for whispering clues about what was to come.

Merci, Mme. Douglas. Thank you.

Merci et au revoir – until we meet again,


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