Posted in gratitude, motivation, thoughtfulness, vulnerability

Better than kind words at a funeral

I wrote this three years ago:

Last weekend, my high school band teacher passed away. Since then, a group formed where tons of people who knew him (mostly former students) have posted memories. A [high school] band reunion is in the planning stages.

I can’t help but think how much impact it would have had for all of these tributes to be said to him. Or how much more fun a reunion would have been with him there.

My message tonight is: if there’s someone who has influenced you and you haven’t told them yet, do it! Bonus points if you get others to do it with you. (What would be better than an unexpected influx of thank yous??)

And if a reunion of sorts is in order, arrange it while the members are around to participate. You just don’t know when it will be too late.

The reunion did happen. It wasn’t at a time or place I could go (or wasn’t a high enough priority for me to go).

Even within the constraints of time and money, a group “thank you” could be organized for a person who isn’t dead. Cards, letters, pictures sent to one collector who could organize them into a binder or scrapbook or something. (I did this for The Tall Daddy’s birthday a couple of years ago; he loved it.) Electronic would be better than nothing, but something tangible is better than that. Added points for handwritten, and for photos.

Who do you know has touched many lives? Whose funeral would draw hundreds (or more) of people? Why not honor them now, while they’re still here? Do it, then report back on how it went.


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Posted in cancer, gratitude

A small tribute to Michelle

I was 31 when I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

It was around then that support groups for young adults with cancer and survivors of cancer were starting to pop up.

I learned about one called I’m Too Young for This (some years later renamed Stupid Cancer). No idea how I learned about it, but through them, I met Michelle. She was the Phoenix coordinator.

Michelle was an amazing, fierce woman who didn’t take crap from anyone. She was in remission from a bout with colon cancer, had a husband, two young kids, and a fiery spirit.

We clicked and easily became good friends.

She was part of my support crew when I started my health and wellness business, when The Kid was born, when I went through my divorce.

I was part of her support crew when she coordinated the most successful Phoenix Undy 5000, when she was diagnosed with a recurrence, and in the last weeks of her life.

Different people gift different things to us. Michelle’s gift to me was strength. There was not a thing in the universe I couldn’t conquer with her behind me.

She was using in-home hospice and was looking for someone to stay with her for a few hours one morning. I took the day off and went out to visit her (we lived about an hour’s drive apart).

A few days later, I texted her and mentioned I would be available to come out the following day, if she wanted company or needed help.

“I wish I could say yes, but I have plans. Raincheck?”

It’s the last text I have from her.

One of her bucket list things to do was to run a half marathon. (I was reminded of this when reading through comments on an old Facebook post I’d made about my first triathlon, five years before her death.)

Two years ago, I ran the Phoenix Half Marathon in her honor.

(I have no need to run any more half marathons—longer than I would like to run—but it was the perfect storm: I had been running with a running club and was feeling really good about my running and had started to think that maybe someday I’d do a half marathon. Then I saw Michelle’s old comments about wanting to run one. Then I met The Climbing Daddy who was running all kinds of crazy stuff. And It Was So. That one was for you, girl. I hope it was sufficient!)

Michelle, I miss you. I miss our conversations. I miss the strength you gave to me (and to everyone around you, I suspect). You would love The Climbing Daddy. You would continue to be amazed at The Kid. (Remember when he used the word translucent? And how smitten he was with your chickens?) Thank you for all that you shared in our short time together. I am eternally grateful our paths crossed.



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Posted in education, gratitude, storytelling

Gratitude and musings: impactful teachers

I saw a meme that depicted a student climbing a ladder where the rungs were the arms of teachers and coaches. I saw a video of a recently-retired band teacher honored with a surprise concert and a massive instrument donation to his school. I reread a note from a former student who I had taught in 5th and 6th grade, written well after she’d entered adulthood, saying I was the best teacher she’d ever had.

I have been fortunate enough to have many great teachers in my life so far. Some of them, I remember only scattered details about content but remember how I felt. Some of them, I remember content. (Some of them weren’t explicitly in teacher roles.) But I’ve never had a teacher who left a positive impression on me who didn’t recognize my humanity.

One of the things I loved most about teaching when I started (and hate most about the limitation in my current assignment) was getting to know kids. They’re interesting and insightful and funny. Typically more willing to share what’s inside of them than adults are. In most teaching jobs that I have had, I’ve learned at least as much as I’ve taught, if not more.

I took time a few years ago to write thank you notes or letters to former teachers, if I knew how to get it to them. There was one who I feel deep gratitude and affection for, who I feel like I can’t say thank you enough times (though after a while, it would just be weird, so I did once or maybe twice and that’s all).

Jon Gluckman was my 7th grade English teacher. I had his class last period of the day.

As a 7th grader, I was introverted, shy, anxious, completely unable to make conversation with people unless I knew them well. (To my frustration, some of those remain true. Another post for another day.)

As a 7th grader, I hated being at home. I’ve mentioned bits and pieces around here, so for now we can just say: home was not an emotionally safe place to be.

As a 7th grader, I was in a new school. Our district at the time had K-6 elementary schools and one junior-senior high school.

As a 7th grader, I loved reading and writing. They had always been two of my favorite things to do, and I was endlessly disappointed in elementary school that I would test into gifted (pullout) math but not language.

I don’t remember when it started or how it started, but I would always pack up my books slowly and be the last one out of room 122.

One day, he asked me, “What’s the latest gossip?” That’s a question nearly anyone can answer, and so we talked. I have no idea what the latest gossip was at that point.

I don’t remember how often this happened, but we would talk for an hour or more after school on a regular basis. I would get in trouble at home for being late, so I used to make up clubs that I was in so I could stay for “meetings,” when really, I was hanging out and talking to Mr. Gluckman.

It filled a giant emotional hole in me. An adult who was interested in talking to me. On a regular basis.

For anyone whose mind went there, there was never anything remotely inappropriate about it.

I remember very little of we talked about. But I remember being safe.

When I moved on to 8th grade, I would sometimes stop by his room after school and say hello. And I started a “publication” called The Gossip that I gave him every so often. (I would love to see those now. I don’t have electronic or paper copies. I’m sure they were entertaining in the English Department office.)

Once I became a teacher, I thought back on those days and how much time he gave me. It still amazes me.

I took a creative writing class with him over the summer between 8th and 9th grades. I had a Facebook trip down memory lane about that class a few years ago. So many of us remember so many random details about it … so long ago. I can still recite Buffalo Bill’s by e.e. cummings. Thirty years later.

I took a creative writing independent study with him in 10th grade.

I’ve seen him a handful of times since. We’re going back East this summer. Maybe I’ll see if he’s around.

I wanted to use a picture of he and I for this post, but I don’t have any. Memories it is.

What teacher had a huge impact on you? Have you let them know?

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