Lee Pennington was a professor at the Junior College I once attended (and a former Kentucky Poet Laureate!). I had him for a creative writing course probably back in 1992. It was a class I enjoyed tremendously.
In seeing him, I was suddenly shaken to realize what an incredible impact this teacher had upon my life. Before that class, I did not write. Oh, the occasional letter or other functional sort of writing, sure, but otherwise, I just did not write. Not for pleasure, not for reflection, not for joy, not for communication of ideas, not for discipline... nothing.
On the other hand, since that class, I have written nearly continuously. Hundreds (thousands?) of poems, stories, essays, reflections and not a few silly limericks have crept out of this mind and these hands in the years since taking his class. This blog, for instance. Or poetry and songs for worship and reflection in my own life and at my church.
This poor writer has even been published in a magazine, newspaper and book or two over the years.
Now, all of that is not to say that I've become a good writer (there is too much evidence to the contrary to suggest that), but for better or worse, I am a writer... it is part of my self-identity, of who I consider myself to be.
And prior to meeting this man - this great teacher - and taking his class, receiving his criticism and supportive encouragement, that was not who I was.
Not only that, but I don't think it's too far a stretch to say that my writing life and example has, in turn, influenced my children - at least a little bit - to be readers and writers, themselves, and now, they are writing songs and in a band with a CD produced by a local record label and are making appearances at concerts, on TV and on the radio.
And the thing that struck me was, prior to seeing Mr Pennington yesterday, it had not sunk in what a greatly profound impact he has had - continues to have - upon my life.
After seeing him and briefly saying Hi and introducing myself, we parted ways again. After this divergence is when his impact upon my life began roaming large through my mind and it saddened me that I didn't tell him that. The more I thought about it, the more it troubled me.
And so, I began looking for him, tracking him down again and ran up to tell him...
"Mr Pennington, Hi again. You know, I just wanted to say what an impact you made on my life. I... I just wanted to let you know, I still write, all the time, and I owe it to you. Thanks for all that you are and have been to people like me over the years..."
Or words to that effect. He probably gets that all the time.
Or at least, I hope he does.
Thanks be for all of those who give of their lives to teach others.