It's weird to think about what can make a difference in someone's life.

I was talking with a friend the other evening about hearing from one of my students, and I expressed a bit of cynicism (I know! Shocking, right?) about the student's reasons for contacting me. My friend, though, was a bit more optimistic, and suggested that perhaps I'd made a difference I didn't even realize. And as we talked about it, I realized that it was often the smallest things that made a difference for me, so maybe I had done something for this student and not even known it. I certainly tried, but you just never know.

I've been trying to think about specific moments that made a difference in my life. Most of them are small things. One that comes to mind is my undergraduate adviser rightly calling me on crappy work and expressing his distress that I wasn't doing better and wanting to know what would snap me out of it. There wasn't anything at the time that would have pulled me out of that particular nosedive. I was working too much, my family life was nuts, I was in the midst of breaking off an engagement. Getting out of school was a skin of the teeth affair for me. And if you'd suggested even one more hour in a classroom the day I finished, I'd have socked you in the teeth. But if he hadn't suggested that there was a higher level for me, I'd likely never have thought about going back to school when corporate America was doing its level-best to burn a hole through my head and stomach.

Or I find myself thinking about my best friend's mom, gladly letting me spend every day of practically every weekend of a long childhood at their house because as she once tried to tell me, sometimes a break was needed from trying to keep my family's wheels on the road.

What's funny to me is that I didn't really pick up on those lessons until long after they were both offered. But eventually I did. And I could certainly list more. There are a lot of big and little moments where people near and dear and even a few who weren't quite so close did something worth being proud of. I do wonder whether they know the difference they made.


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Belle said...

I love those tiny moments, and treasure the ones my students recount in which I made a difference.

I suggest you tell those people who made that difference to you. Even years later, a thank you might arrive at a moment when it's most appreciated and needed.

July 21, 2008 at 8:27 AM