by Tim Justice

It was with great sadness that I heard from a friend that a teacher from childhood had passed, a lady that I knew as Lori Kirtley. Coming very close on the heels of the news of the suicide of a high school classmate, this gave me pause to think about the role that Lori had played in saving me from a similar tragic fate. I’d like to take a few moments to share what she meant to me.

There are a few people whose lives intersect with our own, whose footprints carve a path through the untamed and often frightening wilderness that lies ahead of us. They inspire us to greater heights, to journey to places where angels fear to tread, and to find our own inner strengths to battle the tumultuous storms that attack us frequently through life.

Lori Wilson was just such a person. I met her through a time in life when I didn’t have much else, and she was one of a very small group of people that I allowed in to the anger and frustration that was a part of my adolescent existence. For four formative years, I called her my teacher, my mentor, and my friend, though I only had a vague understanding of what those latter two words meant.

Lori Wilson

Lori Wilson

In my junior year, I worked as an aide in the library, and my journey of self discovery was in its infancy. Mrs. Wilson and I would discuss dreams and their interpretation, the troubles of adolescence, and life in general. She was there without judgment, without the anger and frustration I met with more than a few of the adults in my life, and without condescension, to teach, to guide, to correct, and to encourage me, having the wisdom and tenacity to apply each when it was appropriate. She taught me to dream beyond the dusty wheatfields of my Northwest Oklahoma home, and to see a vision greater than my narrow 17 year old’s existence. While others taught me how to read, she taught me to savor the words of the great writers like a rich food or a fine wine, and, in some small way, how to craft them. She never directed me, but she gently pointed the way as I headed out into the next chapter of my life.

But the reason she is and always will be near and dear to my heart is because in a dark time, she was a beacon of light. There were others, of course, but precious few that I trusted, and Lori was one of the few that understood enough to keep me from surrendering to the dark thoughts that often filled my mind during that very, sometimes impossibly difficult time. She gave me hope when I had none and she set my compass to aim for the stars.

When we think of greatness, we think of people who changed the world, people who moved mountains, and brought hope to the hopeless. Lori Wilson did all of those things in the life of at least one young teenager. My world as I know it would not have existed without her, and with her guidance the mountains of bitterness and the world of hopelessness and despair slowly dissolved to allow me to become the husband, the father, and the person I am today. Lori’s was a life well lived, and a legacy we should all be honored to have. I hope her family remembers her not only fondly, but proudly for the lives she molded. Thank you, Lori Kirtley. You truly were (and are) the wind beneath my wings.