I remain totally amazed at how many people have told me within the past few years that I was one of the bright lights in their life at times when I didn't know it, and could've used a penlight myself.
I posted that to my Facebook profile a few weeks ago, after I ran into a friend from college whom I hadn’t seen in over 30 years at a local theater performance. Actually, she ran into me. She said that she saw me in the audience, and figured that it had to be Keith Gatling. I’m still amazed, because looking at a picture of me from 1978 and a picture of me now, I’m not sure I’d see a resemblance, but she did, and picked me out immediately.
Anyway, we became Facebook friends, and in the subsequent correspondence I found out that I was one of the “bright lights” of her time at SU.
Wow. That was number three.
What do I mean by that? Within the past two years, two other people told me that I was a “bright light” in their lives. One was from high school and one was from elementary school. And all three times that I was being the bright light for someone else, I could’ve used a penlight myself because of how incredibly lonely I felt. This was during my “Charlie Brown” era, and I would never have guessed that I was that important to those three people. Three people who, coincidentally, I hadn’t seen in over 30 years, and had gotten back in contact with thanks to the miracle of the Internet.
And then a funny thing happened. Other people started responding to my little status update, telling how much I meant to them. Really, I didn’t post that to fish for compliments from people. I was simply commenting on how you never know who you’re influencing and who you’re important to, even when you’re feeling your worst. But still, the responses came in.
One from a college friend who said I was the best housemate she ever had, after all, who else would let her butter the kitchen table and pour beer in his spaghetti sauce (yes, you read that right). Another from a high school friend who said that she can’t think of Shakespeare without hearing the rock opera version of Macbeth that I wrote as a senior project. Wow, I didn’t know that anyone but me remembered that…and, by the way, I can still play it.
I’m well aware of the influence I’ve had on people for the past 19 years that I’ve been a teacher. But I’m still always just a little amazed at finding out what I meant to people back when I wasn’t sure that I meant anything to anyone at all.
And the point here is that you never know. You just really never know. You may be feeling the most depressed you’ve felt for months, you may feel that you don’t mean anything to people outside of your own family (and they’re contractually obligated to care about you), yet you’ve done some little thing that helped to brighten someone else’s life, something that keeps them going, against all odds, day after day. And you may not find out about until many years later.
So if you’re feeling like I was 30 years ago, just hang in there…because you never know.