It’s Day Eight of our #StoryPeopleWithLove contest featuring EXPRESSIONS OF LOVE. Today, we’re illuminating the special love of a teacher – & in this case, lifelong friend. Thank you Jonyl Burney for opening your heart to us. Here is her story:
The Person Who Changed My Life
“In the words of Alfred Lord Tennyson, “I am a part of all that I have met.” In my life, I’ve had the good fortune to have been influenced in a positive way by many good friends, family members, teachers, and coaches. I’ve had many occasions to think of each with gratitude.
It took many years for me to learn what F. Scott Fitzgerald expressed so well, “There are all kinds of love in this world but never the same love twice.” We love people for different reasons in different ways, and they all serve meaningful purposes vital to our existence. Many people in my life have come and gone, and each has touched me in a way that has made a difference. Still, it’s only natural to realize some stand out. A special person who changed my life is my friend, Dorothy. What is more is she has done it not once, but twice.
I first met Dorothy when I was 12 years old. I knew her then and for years after as “Mrs. Vander Leest,” my sixth and seventh grade English teacher. Some words that have effected me are, “Be the person you needed when you were young.” As a student entering middle school, Mrs. Vander Leest was one of those people to me. I was shy and unsure of myself. I needed people to take an interest in me. I needed confidence and encouragement. I didn’t know about the label then, but I was (and still am) an introvert. I’ve never let many people in. I need to feel safe to share myself with people. In her, I found someone safe.
Mrs. Vander Leest taught me many things in the classroom. The most important thing she shared was a passion for words. Because of her, I learned to love them, use them the right way, write, and string words together in a way that brought pleasure to others and, most importantly, myself. I took pride in my work and craved the praise she gave me when I did things well. Not everyone had the good fortune of having Mrs. Vander Leest as a teacher two years in a row. I was lucky. I still remember the feeling of elation when I got my seventh grade classes and found out I had her for one more year.
Instilling in me a lifelong passion for words would have been enough in itself, but I learned much more from Mrs. Vander Leest. I remember her teaching me to look her in the eye when I was talking to her. It is still difficult for me when it comes to most, but I do it with her and try harder with others. She had a way of making me feel like I was the most important person in the world (in fact, she still does). She took an interest in me, and it made all the difference in the world.
After middle school, I never completely lost touch with my teacher. I thought of her often, but it wasn’t the same as being in a classroom with her every day. Time moved on. I grew up. She retired from teaching. Somehow, I entered my forties. It was then that the power of social media reunited us, and, for that, I’ll be forever grateful. My teacher then became my forever friend.
I don’t think it’s a coincidence we reconnected through the power of words – messages through Facebook and the game “Words with Friends.” Then, when I needed her most, Dorothy came back to me for good. A shared experience with a health issue connected us. She helped me in so many ways to get through that time. Our messages became more frequent. Eventually, we talked on the phone. Now, we see each other regularly again.
Elizabeth Berg said, “I hadn’t realized how much I’d been needing to meet someone I might be able to say everything to.” The same is true for me. It takes great effort for me to confide in others. It takes a special person. In Dorothy, I found that. I feel comfortable sharing so much, and what a relief that is.
Friendship is a curious thing. Who knows when the littlest thing ignites a lifelong connection between two people? Making conversation has always been tough for me. With Dorothy, it almost seems effortless. I rarely find myself running out of things to say. It amazes me. She’s always genuinely interested in what I have to tell her, and I love hearing what she has to share, no matter how little or big. I love nothing better than spending time with Dorothy, no matter what we do.
Writing still connects us in a major way. Just as when I was young, I still love to write for her as my audience. I still crave her praise as it relates to my writing. We exchange messages almost daily. No matter how long or short, they mean the world to me. I love the E.B. White quote from Charlotte’s Web that says, “It’s not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer.” Both are important to me, and in Dorothy, I have found both.
It’s my nature to think about things deeply. I’m never so amazed as when I find a connection to people through things I feel passionately about. When it comes to important values and ideas in my world, I’ve found someone who shares them in Dorothy. This means so much to me. In the words of George Eliot, “Oh, the comfort, the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person; having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words, but to pour them all out, just as they are, chaff and grain together, knowing that a faithful hand will take and sift them, keep what is worth keeping, and then, with a breath of kindness, blow the rest away.”
Dorothy is a person of deep faith. I know this even though she rarely speaks specifically about it with me. Religion is a complex matter to me. I’ve never worn my faith on my sleeve, but I do believe. It’s one of those things that would be tough for me to discuss, but I believe because of how people like Dorothy show me what faith is. I like a quote, “To love another person is to see the face of God.” I think Dorothy would be happy to know she shows me the face of God by the way she lives and treats me and others.
Expressing how I feel about others has never come easy to me. Saying “I love you” is even tougher. My friend Dorothy tells me she loves me in so many ways, and I’m able to tell her back. This is nothing short of a miracle. When she hugs me, it is so tightly that everything bad I’m feeling just disappears.
Imagine someone having such an impact on your life that it affects your outlook on the whole world. I use words from “The Reason Why” by Brian Andreas to describe this: “…because you remind me of everything there is in this world to love…” My friend Dorothy fits this description perfectly. For this and the many blessings she brings to my life, I’m eternally grateful. It isn’t often someone is lucky enough to have her life changed not once, but twice, by one person. I have.”
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