Thursday, September 08, 2011
The Impact of One Person
There are two things that led me to start this post. First was a video by John Green about the impact author Ilene Cooper had in his life by mentoring him through the writing of Looking for Alaska. Second was the news that my former high school director, Bill Dingledine, was in a cycling accident that sent him to the ICU. The good news is that it looks like he'll be okay - thank goodness he was wearing a helmet!
In his video John says that the only reason Looking for Alaska exists, the only reason he has a job writing books, etc., is because of Ilene and it made me realize that all along the paths of our lives there are people who have such influence on who we are and where we're going that without them... we wouldn't be where we are.
Bill Dingledine is one of those people for me.
I like to think that when you begin a story it's like you're standing at the base of a tree and you look out at all the myriad of branching possibilities before you with no clear path where the story will lead you. But when you get to the end of the story -- way out onto the very tips of one of those highest branches -- you can look backward and see the inevitability of the path to where you've come. There is a direct line from the base of the tree, through all the splits and choices, to where you are now.
Life is like this too. And when I look back over the many forks that have led to where I am today I realize that Bill Dingledine was there guiding my way and helping me forward. He was a teacher and an administrator who encouraged all students and made every one of us feel unique and important. I remember sitting in his office when he called Williams College to find out if I'd been admitted early decision (which means he's the one who got to give me the good news).
When I found myself home from college one summer without a job, Bill hired me to teach SAT prep classes for him (he'd moved on from his job at my former high school to running The Princeton Review in my hometown). It was through this job that I learned confidence in myself and in standing in front of large groups of teens which has proven hugely useful for when I'm on tour.
He encouraged my interest in cycling and let me tag along for races, helping out where I could. When I graduated from college he again offered me a job which led to me teaching the LSAT which led to me scoring high enough on that test to get into Duke Law (which led to me meeting my husband, falling in love with zombies and writing The Forest of Hands and Teeth). And throughout all of that Bill probably wrote a dozen letters of recommendation on my behalf: for various schools, for jobs, for fellowship applications.
In essence, Bill was always a cheerleader and he never once told me "No, you can't do that," or "No, I don't have time for you." And there's so much more that I learned from Bill as well. He's someone who volunteers at the local Soup Kitchen every week and someone who shows a tremendous amount of compassion. And as you can imagine, being the head of a high school with a last name like Dingledine probably wasn't the easiest thing in the world but he was always willing to laugh at himself -- volunteering to be the fall man in school skits if it was for a good cause. He showed up to soccer games and field hockey games and school plays not just to cheer on his own kids, but to cheer on all of us.
Sometimes I think it's the way of teachers and administrators that they put so much effort into their students and then we go out into the world and we tackle life and so often we never realize the impact of those individuals on our lives. The English teacher to encouraged us to keep writing (Mrs. Carter), the Biology teacher who instilled in us a love for the macabre (Mr. Titmus) or the first grade teacher who so enthusiastically loved all her students that we couldn't help but take risks, knowing she was there to support us and catch us if necessary (Mrs. Cochran).
Too often we grow up and forget to thank those people who helped us get where we are today. It shouldn't take hearing that they've been in an accident to do so and while I've thanked Bill in the past, I'm not sure he knows just how much he's impacted my life. I wouldn't be who I am and where I am if it wasn't for his boundless love and support and for that I am eternally grateful. Thank you, Bill for being such a loving mentor, ardent cheerleader, and for being so giving with your time and energy! I know I'm not the only one whose life you changed.