When we look back on our lives, there are people who play significant roles in shaping us into the people we become: relatives, friends, coaches, mentors.
For me, it was my middle school English teacher. I was raised in a small town and attended a private Christian school. I lived within what some may call a “bubble.” I don’t note this because I think it is bad necessarily, but instead to emphasize that I did not know that anything existed outside of that bubble.
That bubble burst the day I sat down in Mr. Fletcher’s class.
Even now Mr. Fletcher remains one of the most unique people I have ever met. When I met him, Mr. Fletcher was likely in his late fifties, with a lean, fit physique topped by wispy gray hair. Rumors about the amount of work he required daily swept the halls after the first period of the day.
As seventh graders in Mr. Fletcher’s class, we were reading The New Yorker and were quizzed weekly on the vocabulary in it. As ninth graders, we were reading the poetry of E.E. Cummings and Edgar Allen Poe.
Rumors among students yet to have his class were filled only with tales of rigor, discipline, and terror.
But if you were one of his students, you knew that on the inside of his classroom there was an immense passion for literature. And Mr. Fletcher’s passion for literature was utterly contagious, expanding each of our adolescent inner worlds to new ideas, opportunities, and perspectives—all by simply showing us something different than that which we were accustomed.
While he required us to learn concepts that exceeded our capabilities, the way in which he taught equipped us for life.
He taught us how to look at the heart of the matter, rather than getting caught up in mere appearances.
Mr. Fletcher was not only skilled at pulling out the kernel of truth in the stories and poems he taught, he was also able to inspire his students to believe in themselves as people.
Being taught to look for the heart of the matter — in stories and other people — is the life lesson that has most impacted who I am, what I do for a living, and the way I see the world today.
I recently had the privilege of reconnecting with Mr. Fletcher over lunch.
He is retired now, and even after a decade, he seemed to look the same. His presence was just as familiar and impactful. There was a way about him that was simultaneously unexpected and routine. His thoughts on life were still remarkably revelatory, his words still selective and witty.
As we were finishing up lunch, I asked Mr. Fletcher what he thought was behind the magic of his teaching.
“Desperation,” he said.
While I am unable to exactly say what he meant, I can tell you what I heard him saying…
“I could not help but teach.”
His answer to my question only caused me to ask myself questions (a sign of a good teacher).
What is the heart of the matter in your life? Is there something that you cannot help but do, out of passion, out of desperation? What’s holding you back from embracing or living fully from this place?