Before I turn in a book manuscript to my editor, I turn it in to my high school English teacher, Dixie Marshall. She’s my best and most trusted editor. And also, I suppose, I’m trying to make up for all the assignments I didn’t turn in as a high school student.
There was the group project on King Arthur where we turned in our “notes” and it became apparent that none of us were taking the assignment seriously.
There was the summer reading group. Mrs. Marshall selected me and a few other students for a group she hosted at her house . . . in the summer! Did I mention this was during the summer?
We had recipe boxes filled with blank index cards, each representing a book we were going to read and discuss as a group. She was preparing us to think for ourselves and engage in conversations that would take place in a college classroom. Our first assignment was Tale of Two Cities. We met twice. I didn’t read it.
I wrote this in the acknowledgements of my first book WHERE AM I WEARING:
If everyone had an English teacher like mine, the world would be a better place and much more grammatical. Kyle [my brother] and I once bumped into my English teacher, Dixie Marshall, at a play. [It was an one-man performance in which John Astin was Edgar Allan Poe]. She introduced us to her sister as such: “This is Kyle Timmerman, one of my best students ever,” and turning to me, “…this is his brother Kelsey.” Even so, she never gave up on me and continued to teach me about gerunds and split-infinitives a decade after I last sat in her class. She poured over the manuscript countless times with her red pen.
I wrote this in the acknowledgements of my second book WHERE AM I EATING:
My high school English teacher, Dixie Marshall, was one of the first to read this entire manuscript. I’ll never be able to make up for not turning in my term paper on King Arthur, but here’s to trying! Thanks, Mrs. Marshall! How is it that you get younger by the year?
But then I wrote a book on GIVING, and since I mailed the manuscript to her on her vacation in Florida, which she edited in two days, I’ve started to think about my friendship with Mrs. Marshall through the lens of GIVING.
When I didn’t complete the King Arthur assignment or read Tale of Two Cities I’m sure she was disappointed in me, but I don’t remember her disappointment. What I remember is what it was like to have someone who wasn’t family believe in me.
She sent WHERE AM I GIVING back along with a message on logistics. That’s all I saw. I turned in my assignment to my teacher and she didn’t give me any overall thoughts, stickers, or a “way to go kiddo.”
This time she must be disappointed.
A few days later I saw the note she had written me after the logistics. The note I had missed. For WHERE AM I GIVING I received blurbs from authors, philosophers, and change-makers, but none of their thoughts on the book meant as much as the words of Dixie Marshall my high school English teacher.
By the way, I believe this is the most important book you have written and may ever write. It’s really an impressive book, a valuable book, and one that everyone should read. You are really inspiring, Kiddo. You are someone who has more than lived up to his potential.
WHERE AM I GIVING was a journey. It covers 15 years of travel, but the bulk of the work was done starting in June of 2017, and I turned the manuscript over to my publisher in March of 2018. That’s not much time. It was a taxing book to write physically and emotionally. And her words fell on my heart like a sigh of relief that turned to joy. Her words, like her edits were a gift.
Yet somehow, during the literal 11th hour of the day of my deadline, I was writing the acknowledgements for WHERE AM I GIVING, and I didn’t mention Mrs. Marshall. I didn’t even realize the oversight until my mom received her copy of the book in the mail. I was sick.
Of all of the people to leave out and of all the books to leave her out of . . .
I met Mrs. Marshall and her husband for dinner last month to give her a copy. I told her about the oversight. Again, I don’t remember her disappointment in me. I remember her being proud of me. I remember her words of encouragement.
Her character and commitment reminded me of the graduation gift she had given me 22 years ago.
A Graduation Gift
Somehow despite multiple moves across various states and decades, I came across the graduation gift Mrs. Marshall gave me shortly after I finished writing GIVING. It’s a book of quotes–A Hero in Every Heart: Champions from all walks of life, share powerful messages to inspire the hero in each of us.
In June of 1996, on the first page of the book she wrote, “See page 76.”
Page 76 was a quote from Captain Scott O’Grady, a pilot who was shot down in Bosnia:
“It wasn’t the reward that mattered or the recognition you might harvest. It was your depth of commitment, your quality of service, the products of your devotion–these were the things that counted in a life. When you gave purely, the honor came in the giving, and that was honor enough.”
There are certain people you want to make proud. Mrs. Marshall is one of mine. It is important to me for her to see that her belief in me and investment of time were worth it.
Our lives are shaped by the gifts of others, people making small and large impacts that seem to embed into our DNA and change the course or our lives. Unless we recognize the people who have shaped our journey, we’ll think we arrived on our own. The best way to show gratitude for them is to allow their gifts to flow through us.
With the Mrs. Marshalls in all of our lives we can never repay or acknowledge their gifts proportionally. We can only honor them by giving to others.
I had Mrs. Marshall in school for two years, but she’ll always be my teacher.