When we look back on our school years, most of us remember the one special teacher we had that really cut through. The one we respected, admired, maybe even emulated.
Donald Stos was that teacher for me. He taught grade twelve English, and I couldn't have been more impressed by his carriage and intellectual sophistication. He clearly loved developing young minds, but didn’t suffer fools gladly – in fact, at one point he threw me out of his class for a week for acting like one.
I often visited his office during my spare periods as a senior, hoping to absorb as much of what he offered as I could. During those times, we had conversations that I considered gifts. His facility with language prompted me to consider the application of writing in my own life.
Whether or not it was his intention, he was moulding me. His impression stayed with me long after I graduated high school in 1988 and moved away.
Decades later I had been working in corporate, but writing was what truly pumped my blood – it was what I always wanted to do. I wrote Don a letter in 2002 to tell him about a writing project I was working on, noting that his inspiration had enabled it. There was some fawning.
He wrote back, brushing my accolades aside in favour of offering his insights into my project, deep and mind-bending as they had been back in 1986. He concluded by saying, “the point is to fit that unique peg into its proper hole, and I get the impression, reading between the lines, that Brent Jensen is still not snugly ensconced in a totally satisfying slot”.
I was still the student; he was still the teacher.
I still have that letter and read it often, and I read it again this morning. When my first book No Sleep ‘til Sudbury came out in 2012, it was my privilege to recognize Don Stos in the Acknowledgements section - not only for initially providing that spark, but also for silently shepherding me towards my greatest achievement in life, one that would make my current métier as a full-time writer possible.
Thanks to him, a unique peg found its proper hole.