I’m not prone to posting video of myself talking. But, in this case, what I need to say isn’t something I could type now even if I wanted to. Still the words are ones I’ve been unable to stop repeating for 40 years.

The ability to recite the Prologue to Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales in Middle English has perhaps proven useful in the waning hours of a few cocktail parties over the years. But, it’s never been something to feature on a resume or bring up in a job interview. I’m waiting, but LinkedIn still hasn’t included this as a skill to tag in my profile.

So, I used to wonder just why Lois Kelly made her senior English students commit those verses – and many others – to memory.

Recently, her son posted a current picture of his mom in a Facebook group for Peachtree High School alumni, along with an update. She’s wearing a giant smile in the photo – something I can’t recall seeing when she handed me my graded papers! She’s barefoot, though otherwise beautifully dressed, her right arm thrust to the side in a joyful arc, her left arm around a caregiver.

Her son mentioned some memory loss and the sadness of recently departed loved ones. But, he also said how much good it does her to hear about former students. I can’t imagine how many of us there are, but the online chatter told me a couple of things at least.

One: that I am far from alone with what I presumed was my unique ability to recite those ancient verses. Two: that Lois Kelly shaped an incredible number of lives in very profound ways.

Reading memories from other students left me sitting here reciting anew Chaucer’s words. But, I think I understand now why it mattered to her that we learned them. She had a passion for literature we would all do well to find for whatever it is that draws us in our walk through life. We often lament the loss of oral histories and the art of storytelling, but Lois Kelly was embedding in each of us the seeds to preserve something she held dear. What an honor it is now to know she entrusted us with a thing so precious to her.

My head is filled with snippets of great literature, poetry, and drama which tumble at random from my lips. But, these are only surface manifestations of a wisdom she planted deep inside each of us, by passing along the very best of what she’d found in her own life.

To this day, I vividly recall her extolling the virtues of the “Renaissance man” – someone who excelled in many things. It was an important message at an age when the prevailing pressure was to choose a group and fit in. Be a jock. Be an egghead. Be a stoner. Find your place. I wasn’t the best football player, nor was I the most talented lead guitarist among the local bands. I was never the student I could have been, and I hadn’t yet found my voice to write. But, with her passion for that ideal person who stretched in every direction to grow and become, she gave me reason to believe that being me in the best way I could be was going to be enough.

And she was right.

Thank you, Lois Kelly, for making us all the better people you knew we could be.

The feature image: The Peasants' Revolt of 1381 is mentioned in the Tales via Wikipedia.org (public domain).
Maurice Carter

Maurice Carter

Maurice Carter is President and Founder of Breathe-Water, LLC, where he uses community building, storytelling, consulting, and social media to enable businesses, non-profits, and communities to understand and harness forces for positive change. An Atlanta native living in Covington, GA, Maurice is an active community volunteer, a freelance columnist, and an advocate for causes that build community and promote thoughtful responses to the opportunities and challenges of our day.