A fan of Ira Glass and his weekly This American Life broadcasts (LaDonna, anyone??), I haven't been able to shake the story told in last week's How I got into College episode. The one about the Bosnian student who believed a certain teacher's reaction to an essay he wrote was the catalyst for the series of occurances that ultimately led him to success. Listening to the student's version, it's a great story. One that makes clear not only the gratitude he has for her impact upon his life, but also pinpoints the exact moment, the specific thing, that started the chain reaction. In this case, the essay. In the student's mind, if he hadn't written that essay, if his teacher hadn't read it, if she hadn't then told him he needed to get himself to a better school and then created the opportunity for him to do so, then he wouldn't be where he is today. It was the essay, see. The essay was the thing.
Interestingly, when they tracked down the teacher years later, she debunked the student's theory, assuring him the essay had played no part. She'd been watching him for months, she says, observing his talents and capabilities and determining he needed more than their school could offer long before he'd ever written the essay. You could tell from the student's reaction that he was having a hard time accepting this. He kept trying to bring the essay back into the conversation, even suggesting that while not the main driver then, it at least contributed to her determination that he needed a new school. Sounding almost frustrated, as if she'd realized he was twisting the story to his own end, she wouldn't even give him that. The essay was not the thing.
The teacher further claims that she can't take as much credit as the student gives her, in that she knew he was bound for greatness and fully believes he would have achieved it even without her help in getting admitted to a new high school. And it's a rather tragic thing, to watch (or in this case listen to) a person's core belief dissolve right in front of them. He'd counted on this. He told the story at every dinner party. It was the reason he had succeeded.
The interviewer asked the student toward the end of the episode if he was going to start telling it differently now that he knew the truth, but he said he wouldn't. To him, it was reality. It was how he had observed a very significant series of life events. And this may seem sneaky, but the thing is, I kind of get it. Not having the full background, he built this memory around how he perceived what happened, (he wrote an essay, his teacher suggested a new school) and knowing nothing else, it became his doctrine. His truth. It's a reminder, not just of how fragile and shakable our memories can be, but also of how powerfully the most important ones can be rooted into our very being. To the point where we need them preserved, intact, and whole just to survive.