Someone who has touched your life.

I’ve been doing this for my students. It’s a little bit “Chicken Soup for the Soul,” but that is exactly what my stressed-out students need these days. Hearing these stories has made me feel so good that I want to hear what you guys can come up with.

Who is someone who has made a difference in your life?

One time in high school I was sitting in ceramics class, unable to decide if I wanted to buy a pound of clay or a bag of Cool Ranch Doritos. I sat there passing my dollar back and forth, mumbling “Clay or food? Clay or food?”

My ceramics teacher- a mysterious and much admired older man- overheard me. He pulled me aside into the back room. It was full of bagels and goodies from a conference. He gestured for me to eat my fill.

I tried to explain that I was just a punk kid who wanted chips, not someone who was starving to death. He’d have none of it. He told me to stay in there for a few minutes and eat whatever I wanted.

The truth was I really didn’t have money for both. I did eat a couple of bagels and used the money to buy a bag of clay. But the bigger gift was knowing that someone cared about me. That a teacher with hundreds of kids could still find a moment to care about a one of them.

Thanks, Mr. Yost. I’m a teacher now. You changed my life.

Two teachers:

My first grade teacher. I had a terrible time in kindergarten. I was backwards socially, so the kindergarten teacher treated me as if I were backwards academically as well. But my first grade teacher realized that I was actually very smart, and gave me advanced work. If she hadn’t, I might have been stuck in the slow group for my entire elementary schooling, which would have been a disaster.

Two months into tenth grade our family moved across the continent. In the new school I was lost. By random chance I ended up taking computer programming as an elective. Not only was the teacher important in helping me get my bearings for my first months at the new school, but I discovered I had such a talent for the subject that I got caught up to the rest of the class in a matter of weeks and ended up as one of the top students. And now it is my profession.

A social worker named Betsy. I was unsure of what I wanted to do as a career and she tested me and told me my strengths. She also helped me get enrolled in school. I owe her so much and it changed my life.

My grandparents who showed me what faith was by example.

A boss that gave me a chance.

a priest that helped me do my soul work.

My Spanish teacher in high school.

Our relationship was… contentious. I was a smart-mouthed know-it-all, and high school was soooooo beneath me. She was a teacher who expected respect, but I had none to give. My dealings with her landed me in the principal’s office more times than I’d care to count. Nevertheless, she saw that I had a gift for foreign language, and she expected me to nurture it. Outwardly I couldn’t have cared less, but inwardly I knew that I loved learning Spanish. She saw through me.

On the last day of class of my senior year (Class of ‘88 rekonize!) she gave me one of her old college Spanish textbooks. I muttered a non-commital “thank you.” Seeing that I wasn’t impressed, she told me to open it to the first page. There, in fading ink, was this note (paraphrased because the book was destroyed when my parents’ basement was flooded):

"Dear Miss [her maiden name]:

Thank you for being one of my best students. I know that you will go far in your career. It has been an honor teaching you.

Professor Such-n-such, Dean of Foreign Languages, Augustana College."

One of my biggest regrets in life is that I let that book get destroyed. :frowning:

My grandfather.

My mom’s dad- he would come over to our house every day and work in the garden and would try to get me interested in it. I, however, knew everything I needed to know about everything and shunned him at every opportunity. I hated gardening and had much better, more important things to do than to spend my time baking in the sun with my grandfather, ya know? Sheesh.

Whenever he had to run to the store for supplies, he took me with him. We’d always somehow swing by McDonald’s for a burger and a shake. In return I figured it would be fair if I helped him out for a few minutes when we got back to the house, but I’d roll my eyes the whole time.

And so it went as I grew up and moved away. His health deterioriated but every time I’d come back to town from college he’d slip a $20 into my hand. He was a self-made man, the kind of guy who could fix anything and would spend hours in the basement or garage tinkering until he ended up with what he wanted.

I gave the eulogy at his funeral and when I was done, I wept uncontrollably. I finally realized how much he loved me and how he kept trying to show me that, by teaching me. He was trying to pass on everything he had known to me, his oldest male grandchild.

Over the years I’ve discovered that I think about him more and more, and how without realizing it, I’m sort of becoming him. We have the same temperment, the same interests, the same need to tinker until we’ve figured it out, the same jack-of-all-trades kind of personality.

A few weeks ago I had a terrible head cold so my wife made me a hot toddy and I went to bed. Whether it was the fever, or the whiskey in the hot toddy, I don’t really know. But a few minutes after I laid in bed I found myself thinking about how much I miss him, and I started crying like a baby and didn’t stop for probably 20 minutes.

I really miss him. I’m crying again right now.

The Marching Band Booster Association at my high school. I started playing trombone in fourth grade and it was a pretty massive part of my life all the way through high school. The great event everyone looked forward to was the ‘‘Senior Trip.’’ Throughout the year other kids had been saving up spending money for our Senior Trip to New York City, a place I had never been.

Come senior year, however, I had to legally emancipate and support myself financially. No parents or guardians in the picture, definitely no money, I felt like kind of an outsider. I spent a lot of time feeling overwhelmed and really not connecting with any of the exciting things going on.

When it came time for the trip, all the envelopes came out that had all the student funds in them. All the kids ran and got their money. I was standing there waiting when one of the teachers walked up to me and said, ‘‘You should go look in your envelope.’’

‘‘I don’t have anything in there,’’ I said.

‘‘Just look.’’

Sure enough, the envelope had $300 along with a note from the Marching Band Booster Association (the parent support.) I don’t remember what the note said, I just remember the parent gave me a hug and told me to spend it all on having fun in New York.

I’d never been to New York; it was a pretty amazing experience. We stayed in a hotel right on Times Square and got the full whirlwind tour. I still have a photograph of us all standing in the middle of the street at night with the lights shining behind us. I don’t think I thought once about things back home. It was a bright spot in a hard year.

At the time, I was too self-focused to acknowledge what they had done in any formal way, but looking back I feel so much gratitude and want to pay them back. I wish the me now could go back in time and personally thank every person who participated in that decision. It really made a difference for me.

The truth is, my life has been full of people doing things like that for me. That’s just one example. No matter what’s going on, there’s always some random amazing person there to make the hard stuff easier.

ETA: corkboard, that is very touching.