How a teacher saved my life

Like I said yesterday, I have failed plenty of times. That, however, does not mean that I am accustomed to failure. Failure is painful. It slows us down. It raises doubts. It robs our joy. Failure stinks.

But it also inspires us. Case in point:

I have spoken on several occasions to hundreds, if not thousands of people. I love the platform of public speaking. One time in Estes Park, Colorado, after I spoke to a large gathering of people. As I was coming down the stage, after I spoke, an elderly pastor I knew only by name, rose from the front seat, put his arm around my neck, and said as loud as he could, “Young man, that was something also. If you keep preaching like that, you may amount to something some day.” Thankfully, I had already turned off my mike!

But it wasn’t always that way. When I graduated from Elementary School, I was selected by my teacher to give the speech on behalf of my whole grade. This was before a huge gathering of parents, grandparents, siblings, school and government officials. With the help of my teacher, I wrote the speech, and then practiced it until I had it down pat. On the day of, I got up to the microphone and after the formalities of greeting all the officials, I blurted out, “Good Morning!” There was only one problem: this was at 7:00 p.m.! Nobody caught the obvious: I wrote a memorized a speech to be delivered in the morning!

The crowd burst in laughter. I froze. Then I felt a lump in my throat. Then my legs were moving again and I was running to the back of the auditorium. I was crying softly, my face was ashen, my head was shaking when my teacher found me and looking at me straight in the face she said, “You are going to go back there, and you will finish this speech.” I said, “I can’t!” She said, “Oh yes, you can! You can and you will. And I will be right back here looking at you. If something goes wrong, I will go there and help you get through it.” I was still shaking and felt like I was peeing my pants when she said, “If you don’t go back there, you will never be able to face another audience for the rest of your life.” For somebody who had aspirations to rise out of poverty and be somebody, that did it.

I went back, started the speech, and when I came to the part I had messed up, I said very clearly and with a smirk on my face: “GOOD EVENING!” The crowd applauded crazily. I could have gone home then, but I finished the speech. And the lessons I learned from that teacher that night have stayed with me throughout my whole life.

And what are those lessons?

1. I learned to look for opportunities when I could help a young person overcome fear and obstacles. I don’t know how that teacher knew it, but when she looked at me in the face and didn’t let me quit, it was a defining moment. We all need to look for those.

2. I learned that the nervousness that precedes a speaking engagement does not have to last. In fact, in my case, though my hand sweats and my heart races to no end before I get up to speak, once I get up to the podium and say my first few words, I feel all of a sudden energized and free.

3. I learned that there are times when you need someone else to believe for you when you cannot believe for yourself. Not performing sometimes has nothing to do with abilities, it has everything to do with circumstances, embarrassing situations, etc. That’s why teams have cheerleaders and races have pacemakers (colloquially known as “rabbits”).

So what have you learned from your failures?

Ivanildo C. Trindade