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I Want To Be Like Jesse

There is passion and then there is passion. There are young people with a sense of mission, and then there are young people with a sense of mission. There are letters and then there are letters.

“Mr. Dick,

“I just finished reading your biography of Jesse Stuart, Jesse Stuart—The Heritage. It was worth the ticket ride. I hope the journey you took writing The Heritage was worth your ticket to ride.

“I thoroughly enjoyed reading about our Jesse Stuart.

“My love for Mr. Stuart and his writing began last year. In the spring of 2005, I sold my books back at the university store on Murray State’s campus and began my infatuation (with) the Mountain Plowman. It makes no sense to me that I bought books with my textbook buy-back money.

To Teach, To Love and Kentucky is My Land were the first two books of my Jesse Stuart collection. I have since then added five more selections, which would be another letter all to itself.

“You have thrown another log on my fire for Jesse Stuart. You have shown me a Jesse Stuart I can sense, touch, and enjoy. I have stood on the stage of Lovett Auditorium pretending I was Jesse Stuart. I was addressing the First Region Teacher’s Association with arms waving wildly and mesmerizing the audience at the same time. I have run my fingers through the Jesse Stuart collection in Pogue Library. I have sat in what I called a Jesse Stuart-style chair with all that was missing was a cigar. I would love to have the curator’s job once he retires next year.

“At this point you may be wondering why I’m writing you. I simply wanted to express my gratitude and appreciation for the spark that you have ignited in me—Jesse Stuart.

“I have been drawn to Mr. Stuart for two things: my love for Kentucky and my love for teaching. Both of which consume my heart. I have been from Pikeville to the Mississippi River in Fulton County and from Maysville to Middlesboro. In my heart of hearts there is no better place than Kentucky.

“The teacher in me will blossom this coming spring as I student teach at Murray Elementary and Calloway County Middle School. I am going into the ‘greatest profession.’ I want to be like Jesse. Forget the ‘I want to be like Mike’ garbage. I want to teach! I want to impact my students and myself.

“The crazy thing is, it’s just not one thing I can put my finger on. It begins with odd similarities…like both hailing from eastern Kentucky or both of us loving Kentucky and the hills.

“I cannot thank you enough for the pleasure that I found in your book! Thank you!

“I hope you and yours had a wonderful, blessed Christmas and have a fresh start in the new year!

“Sincerely, Brian Collier
(age 22)”

So, you see, what really counts is the life well-lived, the good life, the inspired, dedicated span of time upon Earth, the precious time at the oars of our individual vessels on the way to the collective sea of thought, and attention to the larger horizon of our being.

There’ll be storms aplenty, darkness, and leaky conditions. We might take in more water than damage control can contain, but if we course down Ol’ Man River with Huck Finn innocence and optimism, we will be all right.

From Mark Twain to Jesse Stuart, from Thomas Clark to Thomas Merton, there’s a passageway leading to an improved truth. Ultimate truth? Aye, there’s the snag on the shifting sandbars of tomorrow as we come around the bend in fog as thick as undulated pea soup that requires a firmer grip where the knuckles meet the polished wood of reality.

This student’s letter is a vote of confidence in and for the future of the Commonwealth of Kentucky.

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