The Gift of Saying Thank You

After 40-plus years in the public school system, “Mrs. Rosen,” my long-ago fifth grade teacher had retired. This was the gist of the Facebook message I recently received from Mrs. Rosen’s daughter, who attended the same school where her mother taught and somehow remembered my name more than three decades later. Mrs. Rosen, it seemed, was ambivalent about retiring, and her daughter was creating a scrapbook – with contributions from former students, parents, and colleagues – to present as a surprise in September, the first fall in nearly half a century when her mother wouldn’t be in a classroom.

“Would you like to contribute a page?” her daughter asked.

“Absolutely,” I responded. Mrs. Rosen was one of those teachers who made a difference in the lives of her students and I was happy to have the opportunity to say thank you.

As I sat down to write my note and pull together a few photos, so many memories came back to me … none of which, ironically enough, were academic. I have no idea what state-mandated lessons I took in during fifth grade, but I know Mrs. Rosen taught our class to love books. I know she made writing fun. I know she made me feel smart.

Mrs. Rosen’s daughter responded with an effusive “thank you” when she received my contribution. “It’s fantastic!” she wrote. “My mom will love this!”

And I hope she’s right. I hope Mrs. Rosen appreciates what I wrote. But the truth is I feel certain that I am the real benefactor of this experience. So often you hear people say that they wish they could go back and thank a special teacher. We want to raise our hand, as adults now, and tell them we are better people today because they cared. We want to “close the loop” with those who made a difference in our lives.

I was lucky. Mrs. Rosen’s daughter came to me. She gave me a gift that I had no immediate plans to give myself, truth be told. When you write your life story, you give yourself this same gift. You give yourself the opportunity to recall the teachers, mentors, family, and friends in your life who played a part in shaping the person you grew to be.

It's a gift you can keep for yourself – or, better yet, forward along when your book is complete.

Tell them how it all turned out.