16 April, 2013

It's Never Too Late

It comes in bursts, but every so often I think about how fortunate I am. When it happens, I immediately begin looking for ways to thank those who have made a difference in my life. Most often it's just a note or letter of thanks; sometimes it's in person. Occasionally I find a way to do more, but it really isn't necessary.

Some were people who came to my side in a crisis. In the summer of 1988, I nearly died from massive septicemia and spent weeks in the ICU and then in a private hospital room. There was one ICU nurse in particular whom I wrote years later to tell her that this very sick patient always felt safer when she was around. I knew she cared. I thanked her as well as I could, and the response I received told me that I, her miracle survivor, had done a good thing.

Sometimes the help came in calmer times. I am well educated and successful by almost anyone's standard, but I didn't do it by myself. All along the way I had marvelous teachers and mentors. Over the years, I have tried to take the time to write many of them to let them know that they made a difference and to thank them for it. For a few, I had waited too long, and they had passed on. When I was in time though, it always felt good to tell them - just as it feels good when I hear from a former student.

Then there are those who were there for me when I was at a choice point in my life and about to make a decision that could affect how the remainder of my life might unfold. I was reminded of this not too long ago when I returned to the University of Virginia for the 50th anniversary of the founding of my fraternity's chapter.

I had a rough start at UVa with a 1.3 for my first semester and a 1.6 for the second. I'm not dumb, but that, in fact, was the problem. Earning As in high school had been so easy that I rarely had to study and consequently never developed good scholarly habits. When I was finally challenged intellectually, I simply wasn't ready.

I rushed and pledged Pi Kappa Phi, but as I struggled academically in the fall, I began thinking maybe I should drop out. My fraternity big brother was hearing none of that. He knew I would ultimately be better off in the house than out of it, and I stayed. He was right. Today I understand that remaining in that brotherhood made all the difference. I went on to do well, of course, and ultimately earned a Ph.D.

He was graduated a year ahead of me and taught third grade for a few years before going to law school and becoming a very successful lawyer in Los Angeles. I learned this only at the reunion because I hadn't seen him or been in touch since he was graduated in 1969. I assumed I would never see him again. I got a little teary as I explained, but you can bet I made sure to thank him for being there when I needed him and for making a huge difference at a very difficult point in my life.

Do you owe someone your thanks? There is no time like the present to let them know. Just do it. You'll be glad you did and then wonder what took you so long.