I’m writing an email in the shed this morning. I never do this. I write personal stories and memoir and fiction in the shed, I read in the shed, I meditate (try to), I play my guitar. I do not write emails. Still, I break the rules today.
It was an unexpected meeting. On an unusually warm day in January, I snuck out to play some golf, walk 18 holes, try to hit the ball reasonably straight. When I walked into the pro shop, there he was, an old friend, a student of mine from a dozen years ago. He was the golf course’s new head professional. He loved golf when he was a student of mine at Columbia College Chicago—we played together a few times—and he got better and better. He’s a great player now. And, he’s a grown-up—wife, children. Time flies. We embraced, slapped each others backs, smiled, caught up, laughed. It was great that he remembered me, saw merit in his time with me all those years ago.
The night before I received an unexpected text from an old friend in Pittsburgh. This old college buddy and I connect from time to time, but not as often as we used to, so the text was a bit out of the blue. In it, he thanked me for something I said to him nearly 30 years ago. He told me he was thinking about those words in the new year and how he had carried them with him for decades, and how those words I said back then had been, in part, a catalyst for his successful career as a broadcaster and entertainer. Do the things you are afraid to do. Challenge yourself. Get out of your comfort zone. Be courageous with your dreams. I can’t take credit for those words. Robert Kennedy said them. I always found that quote very special. Apparently my old friend did too. But I never knew those simple words had been such a part of him for so many years—something I said, a phrase I borrowed and passed on to a friend in 1980.
I’m not sure the encounter with my former student in the golf shop would have rung as clearly as it did if I had not received that text the night before. It was the combination, I presume, that got me thinking, allowed me to see the bigger view and what it all means to me and the work that I do now.
Cherish unexpected gratitude. Accept it and hold it close.
Part of my life is teaching. Sometimes I have to be reminded that I can make an impact in some small way in the classroom every day, sometimes unexpectedly. I don’t write this to praise myself; it’s just part of the job. The truth is, we all make impacts, all the time. With our children, our parents, our friends, our coworkers, the Uber driver who picks us up and drops us off, the clerk at the convenience store. It’s what humans do. Big and small impacts. Forgotten ones and long-remembered ones. And others we will never forget.
These “impacts” are the stuff of stories. They are what fuel my writing. Those moments between individuals that cannot be ignored for reasons good and bad, heartfelt and fleeting, moments of all kinds. And there are also the encounters that seem pre-determined to occur at just the right time. Maybe for a reason. Maybe to remind us of something bigger than us.
So, I write the email and I thank my former student for the few minutes we had together on that early afternoon when the sun shined bright and warmed the ground in what normally would have been a dreary and bitter January day.