By Bruce Stambaugh
You would be surprised what a few nice words can do for a person.
I recently received a hand-written letter in the mail from a friend I hadn’t seen for a long time. I had taught some of her children in school, and she reminisced about incidents that I had long forgotten.
I enjoyed her well-written, personal historical commentary that reflected on the rapid changes that occurred in the 1970s when her children were my students. Those were rough and tumble times with lots of social change occurring.
My friend reflected on how outspoken I was on some of those social issues, and how she had challenged me about sharing my opinions in class. I had no recollection of that.
When I came to the words in the letter, “You did well,” I was both honored and humbled. Here was a wonderful lady who had disagreed with my viewpoints (imagine that) and still took the time to thank me for my teaching.
The 1960 and 1970 eras were tumultuous times in our country to be sure. The Civil Right movement, the Vietnam War, the Kent State shootings, Watergate, skyrocketing oil prices, high inflation rates, and a presidential resignation were just some of the headlines of those days.
I hardly knew how to respond to my friend. After much thought, I sent a few lines of appreciation in a note card. I know they were inadequate. But I’m hoping we will have a chance to meet in the future to continue our “conversation.”
Her letter had a profound effect on me. I acknowledged in my note that I likely was too opinionated in the classroom, especially for elementary children. But the positive tone of her letter was beyond encouraging. It stirred me.
Those three words, “You did well,” charged me, urged me on. I knew I needed to share them in some equally positive way. Then I saw my chance. A teacher I had hired years ago was retiring. Given my schedule and the fact that school was about to end, I knew what I needed to do.
Since I was in the vicinity, I visited where he taught, knocked on the classroom door and strolled in. I wish you could have seen his smile. He was surprised and happy to see me. While his students worked on group projects, we chatted about old times and how much the education profession had changed since I had retired 14 years ago to begin my second career.
Between receiving the one friend’s letter and my visit with my retiring friend, I thought long and hard about the people who had positively influenced me in my life and careers. Just mentally listing their names brought back happy memories, some even during difficult times.
A hand-written letter from one friend and a visit with another served as bookends for volumes of memories, each one a special chapter in my life. Who has influenced you for the good? Who has inspired you? Have you told them how much you appreciated them and what they did for you?
The convergence of Memorial Day and the end of another school year for many across the country provides a unique opportunity. Besides placing flowers on the graves of lost loved ones, connect with someone who positively influenced you.
Whether by letter, phone call or over coffee, tell them, “You did well.” Just be ready for what happens next.
© Bruce Stambaugh 2013