I am sure we all remember individual sentences that changed our lives. I can easily think of a few, from teachers, students, friends and even strangers. However, I'm not sure we ever think about how something we may have said had that same powerful effect on someone else's life.
I taught music in a Yankee prep school for many years. I got the job because, by some fluke, the school owned a Moog synthesizer and I had spent my college days alone with one for four years. So I started out teaching electronic music, certainly a novelty in the curriculum and for the kids, but I taught them the basics of the instrument and, let's face it, it was fun to mess around with all those crazy sounds.
After a couple of years, the word got out. One year I ended up with a bunch of guys, mostly jocks, who were all friends and there for a good time, which was fine with me. We had lots of those good times, became friends... and they did their work, discovering their artistic sides or lack thereof. They finished the year, were graduated and they were gone.
Maybe five or six years later, I walked into my classroom, the one with the Moog, and there was this ragged, disheveled man standing with his back to me facing the machine. I was a little freaked. I said, "Can I help you?"
He turned, long trench coat, ski cap, scruffy beard, he looked bad. He said, "Don't you recognize me?" Well, it didn't sound like that because his speech was almost unintelligible. His tongue was mangled. He had scars.
He said, "I'm Caleb Hamm." He had been one of the bright lights in that class of boys, a gregarious, charismatic boy. He proceeded to tell me that shortly after graduation, he had been in a car accident and that he had been in a coma and then months of rehab. I listened, in shock.
Then he told me that something I had said in class had been the one thing that got him through. He had spent months, it was his mantra. It was about making connections on the Moog, "What goes out, must go back in somewhere." He hugged me and we parted ways. I got in my car and drove back to my home in Boston and cried the whole way.
Well, I was just back at the school for reunion and there was Caleb Hamm. He had an art exhibition at the school. He had gone back to school, earned a masters. He looked great, but now with a gray beard. We hugged. He said he was so happy to see me. And, oh my, the feeling was mutual.
His family was there and I recalled all of this and what a miracle it all has been.
So you never know. Be careful what you say. They may just be listening.