NPR ran a really great interview with Robert Redford on All Things Considered yesterday. He’s promoting his new film about the Weather Underground, which I definitely am putting on my to-see list. He’s a great interview subject in general. I’ve heard him several times before and have always enjoyed him. But yesterday he told a story I hadn’t heard about a moment he had in third grade where his teacher caught him drawing rather than paying attention to the lesson. She made him come up to the front of the class and explain what was so important. Here’s the interview excerpt:
“So I was about to be really trashed, humiliated, and I went up and I held up this thing. And she said, ‘You wanna tell us what that’s about?’ And so I described [it]; I said, ‘Well yeah, these are cowboys and they’re chasing the Indians, and they’re shooting at the Indians and the Indians are shooting back at the cowboys, and they’re about to be driven off a cliff, and above them are some B-51 bombers bombing the cowboys.’
“So what happened was, the class was interested in it. And she saw that. Instead of putting me down, she made a deal. She said, ‘We’ll put an easel up here, and every Wednesday we’ll give you 15 minutes, and you can come draw a story for us — but then you gotta pay attention.’
“Now had that not happened, I would have been humiliated. It probably would have knocked me down to not trust that impulse that I had. Sometimes — I don’t know about you — but maybe one or two [encouragements] in your life is all you need to spur you forward, rather than have you collapse.”
I love this story so much. And it got me thinking about who the people were that were there to “spur me forward” in one of those critical moments in my own life.
I remember my own 2nd grade teacher who rallied the class and community for donations after my family’s house burned down. We lost everything save for the pajamas we were wearing, and it was early February in Nebraska. Mrs. Leverette covered a huge box in paper, and my entire class decorated it, wrote messages of encouragement, and filled it with clothing, toys, and other essentials for my younger sister and me. Mrs. Leverette gave me a little pink Bible and a bathrobe. I still keep that Bible in a cherished place because to me it represents the epitome of compassion, kindness, and community. In a time of so much despair within my family, I learned what it meant to be supported and to accept help as well as a deep commitment to supporting others in their time of need — no strings attached.
Mrs. Leverette was the first example that popped into my mind when I heard the story, likely because of the elementary school connection. But there were others. I’m grateful to say that I’ve had many more than the “one or two” encouragements in my life Robert Redford talks about. My mentors who saw something in me I didn’t. A dear friend who was there to catch me in a time of deep heartbreak. My father who helped me find a way to follow my crazy dream of studying abroad when I had no money. My first roommate in Chicago who held the door open so I could move into an entirely new phase of life. I can think of critical moments in each one of these examples that could have shifted the balance of my life in one direction or the other. Abundance vs. scarcity. Joy vs. despair. Momentum vs. stasis.
I am grateful beyond measure. I doubt half of the people who have touched my life have any clue about the impact they had on me. Perhaps that’s my next personal project … to let them know.
How about you? Who was one person that “spurred you forward, rather than have you collapse?” Feel free to share in the comments, if you’re called.