Defining True Greatness

Red apple and books

Someone believed in me once. Some called her teacher . . . I called her my friend.

Her name was Mrs. Justus. She was my fifth grade teacher and every morning at 8:05 I sometimes still feel like I’m standing in her classroom giving the pledge of allegiance in Jordache jeans. Mrs. Justus was one of those people you could never accuse of being “normal.” She had this long golden blonde hair that curled into this perfect vintage silhouette, piercing ocean blue eyes and don’t forget the bright red lipstick. It was her trademark and I’m pretty sure she kept the Fire Engine Red lipstick people in business for a good ten years. It sometimes made its way to her teeth. We loved her so much we never had the heart to tell her.

Mrs. Justus was the complete and total anti-normal. She was the polarizing opposite of the lady who called roll like she’d rather be passing a kidney stone, kissing a toad or plucking her eyebrows. She was passionate about everything. Literature especially – lucky for me. But there was also our class hamster Reese Cup and the fact that she knew I snuck out of class to go to the library every day (that or she thought I had the permanent trots) . . . and still let me have a bathroom pass.

If that weren’t enough, she used to take us nerdy kids herding around in her old grey jalopy that smelled like mothballs, bug spray and something else I can’t quite put my finger on. Sure it wasn’t pretty but it always felt a little bit like the Magic School Bus because she made everything awesome.

On one trip, we promoted a love of reading on local airwaves. Cool!

We hit up the local dairy queen. Cooler!

We went on impromptu field trips. Score!

She even came to our birthday parties. Presents!

She was . . . well great.

I’ll never forget her telling me about Mark Twain and the art of foreshadowing and all those amazing things that a fifth grader really isn’t ever trusted with. She made me feel special. But, then again, I’m sure she made every other student feel the same.

She told me I was gonna be great. I was going to write all these books someday. She told me she thought I should try to get published RIGHT THEN. Now, at the time, I thought wow – I’m only in fifth grade! But if she thinks I can do it then call up Scholastic because I’m in!

Ok – I know there wasn’t any way I was going to write a novel that actually sold in fifth grade. But it sure did help boost my confidence when I entered my essay in the statewide young writer’s contest. I went home with first place thanks to her.

There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t sit down with my keyboard or my pen and think about Mrs. Justus. She made me believe I could be somebody. And when I’m tempted to think that I’m not, I close my eyes and see that red lipstick . . . and smell that old jalopy. And I feel that wild wind in my hair because it HAD no air conditioning. And somehow? I know everything’s gonna be alright.

Mrs. Justus is living proof for me that we can build people up or we can tear people down. It’s God’s desire that we build one another up. No one misses out. Everyone gets a gift. Don’t think your kind words don’t matter or that your gentle push doesn’t move mountains. Because it does. And it can.

I was feeling a little nostalgic this week and was reading a little Mark Twain last week over a cup of green tea. (See I’m nerdy. That’s why I got to ride in the jalopy. J) And I came across one of my favorite quotes. “Really great people make you feel that you, too, can become great.”

Ain’t it the truth.

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