I just spoke with my kindergarten teacher on the phone today – Mrs. Letrinko from Ridge Park Elementary.
It was the first time I had spoken to her since she had me in class when I was 5 years old.
I reconnected with her through her grandson Kevin who works at the Upper Providence Recreation Center (where I work out).
She called to thank me for a Christmas gift that I had made for her.
If you’re wondering why would I give a Christmas gift to someone who I hadn’t seen since the 70’s then read on…
When I first met Kevin back in the spring and made the connection that he was related to my very first teacher, I went back through my Mom’s old stuff to see if I could find my kindergarten report card.
Eureka! (Mom saved everything)
After getting past the cover page and the fact that it was dated over 40 years ago, I looked inside and I found something amazing.
In her comments, Mrs. Letrinko wrote that I showed an “exceptional interest in music”
I found this to be an INCREDIBLE observation especially considering the long and winding path I took to finally become a full-time musician at the age of 40.
Mrs. Letrinko, however, saw a musical light inside me at age 5.
I thought that this would be a pretty cool thing to share with her.
I made her a photo collage that included a scan of the report card, her comment, and a picture of me performing on the stage at Carnegie Hall.
I framed it up and gave it to her grandson to give to her.
I figured that it would be a nice memento for her to reflect back on a wonderful career as a teacher and validate how powerfully insightful she turned out to be with regard to my true calling.
What I didn’t know was that how important the timing was…
Some of you may remember her husband Al, who taught at Plymouth Whitemarsh High School.
Sadly, he’s not doing well. Mrs. Letrinko didn’t get into too much detail, but she mentioned that he’s been in hospice care since before the holidays.
For her, she said this year “wasn’t really the best Christmas, in fact it wasn’t much of one at all until I received your gift”.
She said that my gift sits on her bureau. She looks at it every day and it lifts her spirits.
So why do I write about this – I mean there is the update part of this story for my fellow Ridge Park Alumni (she’s 86 and living in her same house of 60+ years. She has several grandchildren and great-grandchildren and other than dealing with the fact that she’s 86, she’s generally feeling ok)
Beyond that, however, I don’t want to be that guy who brags, you know, like hey check out how cool I am because I gave this gift.
After deliberating, I decided that the story was important to tell because I felt that there are some elements that could inspire others.
First – to the many teachers I know personally and professionally.
I think it’s important that you hear and understand that you may never know the true impact of your job.
If you love what you do and are good at it, stick with it – YOU ARE HAVING A POSITIVE IMPACT EVEN IF YOU NEVER SEE IT.
Then again, like Mrs. Letrinko, you just might hear from one of your students out of the blue 42 years later, right at the exact moment when you NEED to hear something good and positive about life.
Finally – to anyone else (including teachers) if you feel like you have something important or nice to say to someone – TAKE THE TIME SAY IT AND MAKE IT SPECIAL.
I thought I was just sending over a cool memento as a Christmas gift.
When I dispatched her grandson/elf to deliver my gift, I had NO WAY of knowing that the TIMING was going to be so important for her.
In fact, in the hustle and bustle of the season, I almost forgot to do it.
I’m really glad that I took the time and made it happen.
I think sometimes, it’s easy to focus on the negative crap circling overhead.
Sometimes, it’s hard to see that the world around us truly shines bright.
Most of the time, it’s even harder to take time out of a busy day to share a pleasant thought, a kind word, or even a compliment to our friends, our mentors, our teachers, and most of all our families.
I got lucky. I found something unique and special to say.
The part that wasn’t lucky was taking the time to actually say it and to do it creatively.
We all know that it feels nice to receive a compliment, and also good to give one, but it feels REALLY GREAT to give a compliment that lingers.