What will your verse be?

Robin Williams passing has stuck with me. It wasn’t until I scrolled through Twitter hashtags, trending Facebook messages and countless video tributes that I realized how many wonderful pop culture sound bites were contributed by this very talented man.

My transitional Robin Williams moment was in high school. My eccentric senior English teacher played Dead Poet’s Society in class and for the first time in my life, I considered embracing my love of the stage. This was indeed an odd concept for a closeted introvert. I was equal parts dance lover and academic nerd who hated math. I was a polite, respectful rule follower who completely came out of my shell when presented with a beautiful piece of choreography or One Act Play script. When Williams’ character Professor Keating tells his classroom full of people pleasing students, “No matter what anybody tells you, words and ideas can change the world,” I sat a little straighter.

Mrs. Lee was a hundred years old, looked like the Fairy Godmother in Cinderella and taught exactly one honors English class at Hallsville High School. She also completely believed with all of her heart that she could correctly predict the future. We all loved her. She encouraged those of us with a creative streak to approach our studies in unconventional ways. For example, Mrs. Lee gave us a choice when it came to tests. We could either take a written one or turn in a video depicting all the lessons learned from the piece of literature. WHO DOES THAT? My friend Julie and I were approached by two brilliant classmates (Gene and Adrian) to see if we wanted to team up and submit our final on Pygmalion as a video. I can still remember Julie yelling at the horses in the pasture next to my house, “COME ON DOVER! MOVE YOUR BLOOMIN’ ARSE!”

We may have thrown some My Fair Lady references in there for comic relief. And Mrs. Lee loved every second of our masterpiece.

She encouraged us to look at our lives through a different lens. She knew we had potential and that a great big world was out there just waiting for us to make our mark. She gave us permission to be ourselves and freedom to branch out a bit beyond our comfort zones. I had no idea at the time, but her entire class was a lesson on carpe diem. For a bunch of kids from a one red light town, this was an extremely important part of our education.

Professor Keating: “The world is their oyster. They believe they’re destined for great things, just like many of you. Their eyes are full of hope, just like you. Did they wait until it was too late to make from their lives even one iota of what they were capable? Because, you see gentlemen, these boys are now fertilizing daffodils. But if you listen real close, you can hear them whisper their legacy to you. Go on, lean in. Listen, you hear it? Carpe diem. Seize the day boys. Make your lives extraordinary.”

Mrs. Lee helped us to consider the possibility of making our lives extraordinary. And it worked. I think back to all of my friends in that class and smile at the phenomenal things they are doing with their lives. I’m so glad that Gene was compassionate enough to arrange for a proper send off during the final exam on our last day in Mrs. Lee’s class. One-by-one, we all stood on our desks and saluted her with a heartfelt, “Oh Captain, my Captain.” I still get a little teary thinking about it today.

Dancing may not have been my career path, but that’s okay. This is my stage. Words are my life and I find great comfort in Professor Keating’s charge to his students:

We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love — these are what we stay alive for. You are here – life exists. The powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?

If you’re hurting, please find someone to talk to. USA Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255.

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