I was organizing a file drawer the other day. In the process I ran across a photo of someone who played a key role during a very difficult time in my life, nearly twenty years ago. Although Lucille and I hadn’t known each other very long and weren’t too well acquainted, she stepped up the moment I indicated I needed help. She was old enough to be my mother, and admittedly, that made it easier to let her nurture me.
More importantly, there was something about her that let me know she’d been there, and I needed someone who could relate to my trouble. As I described the thicket that had me hemmed in on all sides, she calmly and gently guided me with some of the simplest and most profound wisdom I’d ever received. Then she prayed with me. Her advice was 24-carat; her willingness to support me through the difficulty, priceless.
We hadn’t been in touch for years, but, as looked at her picture, I decided to let her know how much her being there for me had meant. I’d send her a letter. Since I knew her husband’s name and her town, I figured it’d be pretty easy to find her in the online White Pages. One click led to another, and next thing I knew I was reading her obituary. The pang of regret was immediate. Why hadn’t I bothered to express my sentiments before now?
I wish this was the first bout I’ve lost in this arena. But I got body slammed several years ago, during the course of a conversation with an old friend. She said her mother had suffered significant memory loss due to Alzheimer’s. The list of people who spoke words of affirmation to me during my youth isn’t terribly long, unfortunately. But this woman’s name was definitely on it. I had always meant to let her know that her kind and thoughtful words were a critical lifeline to me as I floundered in a sea of adolescent self doubt. Now she wouldn’t even remember who I was.
But Lucille was younger. I still had time, right?
The window of opportunity can, and does, close without notice.
Ordinarily, I’d wait to post this. I’d time it to appear seasonally, right before Mother’s Day. I’d urge us all to remember those women who served as de facto mothers. I’d say some things about how important it is to let them know that their words were life-giving.
But waiting has bitten me twice now.
I don’t want it to bite anyone else.
So, if you have someone — anyone — who has been pure oxygen to your flagging spirits, who gave you a fresh look at who you really were, and who inspired you to believe you could become that person*…
Contact them now.
As powerful as their words and support were to you will be your confirmation back to them, assuring them that they had a positive impact on your life.
And isn’t that something we yearn for? To be significant? To know we’ve made a difference in someone’s life?
Fufill their yearning. Let them know.
You know who they are. Find the phone number. Look up the school address where he or she may still be teaching. Ferret out whatever it is you need to relay your gratitude and appreciation to this person.
It will do something wonderful and real inside you, but I promise it will do something deep in them, too.
I challenge you…
Don’t put it off. Just do it.
Because you really don’t want to wait until you’re reading an obituary.
[*Mr. Rogers expresses this beautifully in his acceptance speech for a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 1997 Emmy’s.]