Tuesday, November 7, 2017


I often identify as an extrovert with introvert tendencies. I love people, relationships, and large groups. But I also love quiet nights at home, reading books, writing until I can't write any longer, quite solitary outdoor walks and silence. I am quite comfortable being in a public setting such as a movie theater or restaurant by myself. I often enjoy days when I realize I don't need to leave the house at all.

When asked how I would describe myself, I would say I am talkative, caring, an observer, silly, the organizer, a gentle peacemaker, encouraging and confident. When others describe me, they often use many of the same words.

When I was in High School at Forest Lake Senior High, I had a Psychology teacher whom many made fun off. He was quirky and awkward, shared his JFK conspiracy theories freely and often yelled when students didn't pay attention in class. I found this man fascinating. He had so much life experience, was very knowledgeable and I became interested in observing him. What made him tick? Did it ever affect him when students made fun of him, or when he realized he hadn't formed any relationships with fellow staff members? How was this man attempting life on his own and succeeding by following his own path?

I had a list of questions late one morning about our project that was due and approached his teaching podium. He earnestly listened to me as I laid out my issues and questions. He affirmed me, thanked me for making a list and started answering my questions. I didn't want to miss anything so I started taking notes in my notebook. When he finished talking and answering questions, I felt confident in what he told me and that I could finish the project without any issues.

"Kelli, might I add. You are a marvel. You are concise, accurate and thought provoking. You listen and internalize information like no one I have ever seen. You have amazing eye contact. No one has ever looked at me for that amount of time. Ever.

My teenage self became uncomfortable. He continued, "Always ask questions, always take notes, always choose to communicate effectively. By doing so, you will turn into a very interesting adult." I smiled, thanked him and returned to my desk, slightly embarrassed as I realized most of the class had witnessed this exchange.

I reflected on our conversation, and I made it more about him than me. I actually felt sad for him. This elderly world wise educator had never had anyone look at him like that? Not his own parents when he was a child, not his wife during their many years of marriage? I thought about how pleased he was, how invested he was in our conversation. He found my quest for knowledge edifying. He appreciated that I cared about what he had to say, listened intently, intentionally made eye contact with him and acknowledged him with non verbal communication throughout our conversation.

I then realized that these were also the things that I look for when having a conversation with others.

From that day forward, I affirmed others, held others gaze, listened intently and desired mutually gratifying conversations with others.

25 years later, I am still the one who holds a gaze a bit longer than necessary. The one that smiles to myself as I remember fondly a person or conversation. The one that loves learning about others and their lives. I like to think it is all because of an elderly Psychology teacher who took a extra moment to marvel in me.

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