Some of you know that I used to be an English teacher.
I hated every moment of it. My students were dreadful. They were so used to torturing their teachers that it was the norm to sit on me, lock me in closets, and walk out of class while I was lecturing.
During this time, I was subject to unexpected evaluations. Teaching advocates would show up without warning to sit in the back of the class and watch me.
It was always a nightmare.
The kids were already out of control, but they TOTALLY got off on disrupting the class when they knew we were being watched. So, every time the class was evaluated, all hell would break loose. One day, I had the kids do a five minute presentation on a significant experience in their lives. The first volunteer prompted began to go into great detail about his sexual exploits. Another day, all of the kids began to walk out, one by one, waving goodbye to me cheerfully as the advocate frantically scribbled notes in the background.
It was bad.
I had three advocates. One of them simply dismissed me, saying that I was a hopeless case and that I should never have gotten the job. The second one was a psychopath who told me stories about how she used to control her students by stalking them at their places of work and harassing them to let them know what it felt like to be disrespected.
The third one was a shining light in my hellhole of darkness.
He was in his 60's, the perfect grandfatherly figure. Soft-spoken and sweet, there was something about him that commanded respect. He ROCKED at his job. Even though I hated everything about teaching, the only times I felt good about myself were after a visit with him. He would give me careful feedback about how to promote changes in the classroom, and he never gave up on me. Each time he evaluated me I left feeling inspired, hopeful, and full of ideas about how to be better and do better. Every time I lamented how useless I was in the classroom, he'd give me a sharp rebuke and tell me that my passion and desire to really make a difference was the source of my frustration, not my lack of skill. He never failed to build me up. I like a lot of people, but it's very hard to earn my respect. I had more respect for this guy than anyone I had ever known.
I still ended up quitting teaching, but he stayed in my mind for a long time.
One day, years later, I was waiting tables on a warm spring day. I wandered outside to see if the waitress who had the outside tables was doing okay. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a familiar face. It was him.
I went back in to do sidework and contemplated approaching him. I was rather embarrassed to be seen waiting tables after my foray into teaching, since he had given me so much encouragement. After some mental back and forth, I opted to go back out there.
I went up to his table and asked, "Hi, remember me?"
He lit up. "Marisa! Long time no see! How are you?"
"I'm good," I replied. "I just felt compelled to tell you something. You've stayed in my mind for a long time. I have to say that you made the biggest difference in my life and attitude back then. Teaching wasn't for me, but you were such an inspiration to me. You are SO GOOD at your job. I have so much respect for you. You never gave up on me and that school system is so lucky to have you. You were like my hero back then. I so appreciate all that you did for me, and for the other educators in that system."
He cleared his throat uncomfortably. "Well," he said, "This is certainly odd timing. I've been having a hard time lately. Thinking that no matter what I do, it's never enough, I'm not really making a difference or doing anything significant in the schools. Feeling like nothing I do there really matters. I've been vacillating over the idea of just throwing in the towel. This is REALLY bizarre timing."
"You have no idea how many lives you've probably changed, including mine," I responded.
He reached out and grabbed my hand. "Thank you. THANK YOU. You don't have the slightest idea of what you've done for me today."
So often we hesitate to reach out, to be open, to share positive truths. You never know what effect you can have on someone when you surprise them with a positive truth.
How awesome would it be if we all reached out today, in some shape or form, to thank someone who has helped us along our journey?