We don’t often think about the powerful effect our words and actions can have on others, but every now and then, the universe decides to show us.
This week, I had a profound experience at my local supermarket. It was a sunny Saturday afternoon, and the store was crowded. So much so that I almost didn’t go in when I saw the parking lot full of cars. I was tempted to leave and resume my normal weekday shopping schedule the following week, but since I really needed groceries and was already there, I figured I might as well get it over with.
As I made my way through the crowded aisles, I passed a man who looked familiar. I paused, pretending to read the label on a can of cat food as I observed him with occasional sideways glances. He seemed to hold a place of importance in my memory, though I couldn’t quite grasp when or where. After several minutes, I caught a remembered whiff of chalk dust and a nostalgic echo of his voice booming out across a quiet classroom, and it all came flooding back to me. He was Mr. Blaise, my high school Creative Writing teacher!
Happiness flooded my heart, and I timidly approached him and introduced myself as one of his former students. He seemed genuinely glad to see me, but his features transformed into an expression of surprised pleasure as I thanked him for the profound impact he’d had on my life.
Back in 1985, I was a shy, insecure girl of sixteen when I entered Mr. Blaise’s classroom. Being a writer was my biggest dream, but I didn’t have a lot of confidence in myself. I had shown some of my writing to family members, but it took weeks of agony and anxiety to share my work with Mr. Blaise. I had nightmares that he would laugh at me and tell me to “get a real job.” Of course, he did no such thing. He encouraged me, shared helpful pointers about how I could improve my writing, and then shocked me by telling me that I had the talent to create a successful career as a writer, if that’s what I wanted to do.
I’m sure he had no idea how powerful his words were to me at the time. He was just doing what a good teacher does; providing knowledge and guidance to a young, impressionable mind. However, his attention and encouragement meant the world to me. He was one of the first people who ever took my writing seriously, rather than making cutesy comments and treating it like a hobby I’d soon grow out of. He was the first person who gave me hope that my dream was possible. Because of him, I began to believe in myself, for the first time ever.
When I related all of this to him in the supermarket, I could tell he was overcome with surprise. He obviously had no idea how important his words were to me, and that his encouragement would spur me on to follow my dream, and actually be successful with the creation of it.
After we parted in the supermarket, I marveled at the way the universe had orchestrated this little meeting between Mr. Blaise and I, and I pondered the reasons for it. I believe there are very few accidents in this world, and more often there are reasons behind seeming “coincidences.” Perhaps Mr. Blaise was feeling burned out on teaching after more than 30 years in the same role, and my words will inspire him to continue on with renewed passion. Perhaps he was struggling with the educational bureaucracy and feeling restricted in his ability to reach his students. Or maybe I simply added a little boost to his mood so he could enjoy a happy Saturday afternoon with his family. I’ll probably never know for sure.
This experience opened my eyes to the powerful ways we can serve as angels for each other. Maybe you have someone like Mr. Blaise in your own life, someone who encouraged you, strengthened your belief in yourself, and helped you to become who you are today. If you can’t reach them to thank them personally, the second-best way to honor them is to do the same thing for others.
Whether your craft is writing, singing, teaching, or working as a dishwasher, you have the ability to reach out and make a difference in the lives of the people you encounter daily. It might be nothing more than a few kind words uttered when someone is at their lowest, or helping to build up the confidence of a shy child. Though it seems like a small effort on your part, it might mean the world to the person receiving your attention and encouragement.
My greatest advice to you is: don’t hold back. When you feel moved to share with someone, do it. When you appreciate what someone has done for you, tell them. You just never know what can happen, the people you can touch, the lives you can change. And don’t be surprised if, someday, someone approaches you and says, “Thank you.”