Making a Difference, Being Remembered

I have always wanted to make a difference. Sometimes this desire has had its roots in pride and selfishness; other times it has been purely altruistic. Sometimes it has led me to do desperate things. For example, in the first few months after the birth of my second child, it seemed that all I did was nurse the baby, bounce the baby, and clean up the messes the 2-year-old made while I was nursing and bouncing: endless days repeating the same things that had to be done again the next day. My mind knew these tasks would one day, years down the road, turn out to be extremely important. But I still itched for the immediate pay-off. So during naptime and in the evenings, instead of grabbing the little sleep I could, I picked up my paintbrush and went to town on most of the rooms in my house and then turned my painting efforts to my kitchen table and my kitchen cabinets. Painting gave me the instant gratification I needed. In two hours, I could make a visible difference.

A few weeks ago, I opened my mailbox to find a note from David Magleby, a political science professor at BYU. Sixteen years ago when I was a BYU grad student, I edited his books, articles, and monographs on Utah’s political history and on campaign finance. His research was fascinating and fun to read, and he took my suggestions seriously. I was sad to leave his employ when we moved back East for grad school. In the letter, Professor Magleby explained that he was retiring from BYU and was sending thank you notes to everybody who had worked for him and with him over his long and illustrious career there. I was shocked and touched to be included—it was sixteen years ago, after all, and I had just been a shy college student, a short-term editor. For the rest of day, I felt a kind of glow inside. Someone had remembered me. Someone had expressed that I had made a difference.

The act of being remembered made its own difference in my life. I started thinking about who I would send thank you notes to, about people who have, up to this point in my life, made a difference in my academic career, in my mothering career, and in my path to discipleship. I began making my own thank-you-note list. Some of the people I jotted down are major players and others are short-term editors whose words or small, seemingly insignificant acts helped me revise my perspective in a particularly difficult chapter in my life story.

Who has made a difference in your life? To whom would you send your first thank you note? Have you ever been remembered in this way or have you ever been on the receiving end of this kind of thank you note? Tell us about it!

About Catherine

(Prose Board) has worked as a cherry sorter, file girl, piano teacher, writer, editor, and college professor. She currently works full-time as the art director, events planner, chauffeur, and referee for her four children. She spends a good deal of her time running—be it down the supermarket aisle after an escaped child, around the living room in a heated game of flag football, or on early-morning runs/therapy sessions with her neighborhood friends. She earned her BA and MA in English from BYU and her PhD in English from UMass Amherst.

13 thoughts on “Making a Difference, Being Remembered

  1. Perhaps this is a slight variation on your theme, but s similar thought has occurred to me over the last few years. We need to remember the power of the influences we have in the lives of others.

    We lost a son to cancer in 1998 – he was 21 years old and had only been on his mission to Singapore for a few months when he was diagnosed, seventeen months before.

    When you lose someone so young, it is natural to want to make sure they are “remembered” or that they are “honored.” We did a family team for Relay for Life for several years and raised lots of money.

    But since then, I have realized that he made a huge difference in the lives of the people who knew him.

    Like the friends he had who were not members of the church when he was in high school. One of the fathers said that he never worried when his son was out with Jason, because he knew Jason would never let them get in trouble.

    Like the young man who later wrote to tell us that the influence Jason had as an assistant to the scoutmaster made all the difference in his life, as his parents were divorcing and his family falling apart. He came to church just because of Jason and later served a mission.

    Like the missionary companion who was ready to quit, because it was so hard to find people in East Malaysia and it was so hot and miserable to go tracting. Jason made it fun and totally changed his way of thinking.

    Like the younger boys in the ward who served missions after seeing Jason’s example of staying strong, even as he fought the cancer. The bishop had thought several of them would never serve, but they changed their lives.

    I could list dozens of other examples. We so often fail to realize that these kinds of things that we just do have had a big impact on other people’s lives and will be remembered for eternity.

    What a wonderful memorial for my son and others like him. He doesn’t need a worldly memorial. His impact, and ours, is far greater.

  2. Catherine, I felt like I was reading my sister’s writings as I read your words, they were so like how I feel. My sister and I used to live close and raised our oldest kids together, talking every day and doing exactly what you describe: having babies, cleaning up messes, bouncing babies, painting things. I could have just hugged you!

    I agree completely. I’ve often thought deserved praise, carefully considered compliments, offered with a genuine desire to express what someone else means to us, are the gift of Godlike souls. It’s the ultimate equalization and banishes pride because we place ourselves on even ground with others. Oh, if we only did this more often, we’d be safe from so many things! I often think of Pres. Monson’s talk on gratitude and the inspired protections it provides, the hope it gives others.

    I have so many people on my thank you list! My sister, who saved my life by insisting that I not let an abusive husband return even when I wavered and thought that it was not enduring or Christlike. My children who have forgiven me when I’ve missed making dinner more times than any of us can count, and who still say really nice things about me. My friends who listen tolerantly when I go off on some excited tangent about business development or poverty alleviation or how good dirt feels in the spring. The people who just laugh and love me anyway when I talk really fast in sunday school and try to squash too much into a lesson and still tell me they got something out of it. My life is so filled with kind people.

    Thank you for this today! My heart is filled up!

  3. Being the bishop’s wife, I’ve gotten some very tender thank you notes from people, thanking me for “sharing” my husband with them in their hours of need. Last year some families got together and did the twelve days of Christmas for us. With the daily treats, they wrote notes which I have saved and cherish because they are specific and show that we are seen, our choices and our sacrifices to work in the Kingdom are noticed and appreciated.

    Years ago, my family of origin started a tradition of putting “love notes” in stockings at Christmas. It has now morphed into posting on our love notes site for birthdays. But the concept is the same, each year we try to be specific, to mention why we love that family member, what has impressed us this year, why we are grateful. All of those notes are dearly cherished.

    To write a thank you note helps me to relive ways in which I have been loved and cared for, how someone has been my angel. To receive a thank you note, a good and specific one does the same thing, putting love in a note to be re-read and cherished for cloudy days–counting your blessings, like the hymn.

  4. Rosemary, your post made me think about what I hope happens after we die, as part of judgement, maybe: I hope we get to see the moments when what we’ve done has made a difference. I hope those who have touched my life get to see the difference they’ve made. Or maybe I need to start writing those notes in case they don’t get to see! I’m sorry for your loss, and I’m so glad that your son’s life is such a blessing for you and others.

    Bonnie, I love the thought of gratitude as inspired protection. The way it changes my focus does change the spirit I have about me. Your fun personality comes out so well in your writing!

    Angie, I love the thank-you tradition! My husband’s birthday was 2 weeks ago and I emailed family members and friends all over, asking them to tell me something they think is great about him. It was so fun to get the responses. It helped me remember all of the many reasons why I also think he’s great instead of getting caught up in the you-didn’t-do-this mentality I often get trapped in. Your post reminded me of this quote that I have on my fridge, one of my favorites:

    “We must not drift away from humble works, because these are the works nobody will do. It is never too small. We are so small we look at things in a small way. But God almighty sees everything great. Therefore, if you just go and sit and listen, go visit somebody, or bring somebody a flower–small things, wash clothes for somebody, or clean the house, very humble work. That is where you and I must be. For there are many people who can do big things. But there are very few who will do the small things.” ~Mother Teresa

  5. I’ve sent notes to teachers – at least 5 years after they taught me. Three to English teachers, one to a French teacher, and several to friends who have been amazing to/for/with me. The teachers all wrote back, totally bowled over that I felt that way and that I wrote to tell them as much. My friends got embarrassed and didn’t believe the effect that they had had on me.

    I’ve had some letters and emails from people who have thanked me for things I have done (often obliviously on my part) that have helped them – sets a bonfire to the cockles of my heart!

  6. Taking the time to remember people is a good principle to highlight. I was trying to write something about remembering older adults (since I’m working in that field), but I kept alluding to that church film “The Mail Box,” and I really was trying to avoid the same tone of sentimentality and failing. Oh, well! Thanks for the gentle nudge to remember others.

  7. My senior year academic counselor in high school made such a difference to me. I wasn’t the easiest person for her to deal with for reasons I will not elaborate. But I was the type to try to get A’s in everything and stay out of trouble in and out of school. She even encouraged me to relax more. As I did poorly on my high school entrance exam and questioned my intelligence in a way that I never had in the 8 years prior, I was very nervous to take the ACT test that people took prior to applying for College. I was originally placed in the Vocational track at my all girls Catholic high school. I studied so hard and with the wiring that takes place as you get a little older and a gift for memorizing that I would fine through hard work, I was moved up in classes and became college bound. Yet, I was so nervous to score low. She kept after me to take the test and finally after many attempts sat me down and filled out the paperwork. More will probably come later.

  8. I ended up doing very well in a few of the sections and bad in Math, but my over all score was higher than needed for state college. This counselor was also willing to fill out the paperwork for financial aide had I provided her with the income information for my family.

    Last May, I wrote about my 10th grade American History teacher who was a nun in a blog post. She actually wanted to move me up to the higher level history during the year. She told my mom to go over and demand it. But I think others did not think it was a good idea. The next year, I still opted to take the lower level history classes although I had other classes that were challenging. She was disappointed when I received the award for the Sociology class that I had not moved up to the higher level. With my information overload problems, I think I would have been too overwhelmed. Later, I took American History at the local University and received an “A”. I thought about telling her but didn’t know how she would handle my leaving the Catholic Faith her being a nun and all. I regret I never told her nor did I thank my academic counselor before either of them died. In my post, I wrote about the many other ways she really inspired me. My Speech teacher in high school was also a radiant and amazing woman inspired me and others. Of course, the list can go on and on!

  9. I’ve been thinking about this lately as well. In 4 weeks our moving van will be loaded and my kids and I will begin a long drive across the entire US to our new home. We have lived in North Carolina, in the same ward, for 17 years and we are heartbroken to leave. As I have looked at different people in the ward I have had thoughts of gratitude come into my mind for each one, thoughts that I have felt would be more meaningful if I actually wrote them down and sent them in the mail. So I think that’s a goal for me on our long trip–to take time each night to think of the things I want to say, and to write a few each night. Because I want them all to know what a difference they made for me…

  10. I’ve often thought of writing thank-you notes to people who have helped me (often teachers), but haven’t done so. Maybe I should! I like the idea of that kind of remembering.

  11. Barb, Thanks for sharing. As an on-again, off-again teacher myself, I’m glad that you, Kellie, and Rosalyn all talked about teachers making such a difference in your life. It also gives me hope that there will be teachers like that out there for my own kids when I can’t reach them.

    Cindy, moving is always such a heart-renching time for me. Good luck with the move and the change, and do send those notes–it sounds like it will be good for you as well as for those who receive them!

  12. I wish I had some way of contacting these people who blessed my life.
    PA O’Neil who knew how to “caught”a baby when the doctor didn’t
    Oma Hansen who was a living example of enduring to the end with grace

    Laurie- the firey mother who fights for all the special kids and her beautiful Damon

    Mr. Welch- my sixth grade teacher- He welcomed this Southern girl into his Utah classroom in the middle of the school year and made me feel accepted and capable.

    Michelle, the French sister, who accepted the calling as my counselor when I received my very first church leadership calling and guided and sustained me through that learning experience.

    My sister-in-law, Coleen, who loved my brother made his home, raised his childern and made us a better family. We miss you sweet angel.

  13. I read somewhere about a person who sent out regular thank yous and started noting down who I wanted to thank. I’ve sent notes to my florist (honestly, they seem like family) and the owner of a convenience store complimenting the staff. I don’t even know if they got them, but I felt really good inside about it.

    Something about gratitude….

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