25 May 2011

We don't eulogize the living

Outside of some really interesting speech classes, the title of this post is true. We don't eulogize the living. I understand why we don't, but I think it's a shame nonetheless. You see, this is my last week at my current job, and the week when my wife, who's been living in Central California (which is a nice way to say "Fresno"), comes home to help me pack up the recently sold house. 

You may be wondering what those two things have in common, or what they have in common with eulogizing the living. You're right to wonder; on the surface they have nothing in common (with each other or with eulogies). In order to make the connections, let me explain.

My wife spent 5 years as a teacher here in Colorado Springs. She worked at a smallish charter school. I don't think I'm overstating when I call her legendary or titanic there. Her impact was so large, her opinion so valued, that her former principal called her and asked for advice solving a schedule problem in the fall. I have friends at church whose older kids had her, and they're still more than a little bitter that she left the year before their youngest would have been in her class.

I bring this up because the missus went to visit her former school today. She won't say so directly, but the response was overwhelming. Parents stopping her in the hall, telling her they had just been talking about her. The aforementioned principal calling her into the office to sit in on another scheduling meeting. Kids who never had her calling her name. In short, the school poured out its love for her onto her. 

I, on the other hand, did not go back to my former school, because it's not my former school until Sunday. However, I did receive high praise from my co-workers and former students. They presented me with a signed photograph of me leading an assembly. The messages they've scrawled all around it are enough to move a rusty old cynic like me to the verge of tears. They presented the framed picture to me at graduation practice, and (for me at least) it got pretty dusty in our unfinished auditorium. 

So how do these two stories relate to eulogies? (I have now smashed the previous record for use of the word "eulogy" in a crappily written education blog) Because if I wasn't leaving, and if my wife hadn't left, then these laurels would not have been presented to us. Not to brag (which of course is what I'm going to do), but most people would have said really nice things about us, because we're good at our jobs. However, societal norms would have prevented most of them from saying those things to us. It takes a person leaving for them to hear that people appreciated them.

This is obviously the proof of the old truism that "you never know what you've got 'til it's gone". We, as a society, don't praise those who are good at what they do often enough. We spend our time and energy trying to improve, instead of taking a moment to appreciate the things and people that we have in our lives that are already working.

I would encourage you to say a heart-felt thank you to someone in your life who does a nice job at what they do. Let your child's teacher now that you appreciate the work they've put in this year. Tell the janitor that you appreciate the job they do. Tell your pastor/rabbi/priest that you appreciate the way they go about their business. Leave them a note. Send them a card in the mail. Organize a card shower. 

But don't buy them things.

I know this seems counter intuitive. I know that you think that getting them something will show your appreciation. I promise you that they'll appreciate the gift card. They won't throw it away. But I'll promise you this as well: they'll treasure something personal that you took the time to do for them. I know this is true. I see teachers that post thank you cards from my Student Council kids on their walls. No one is printing out a thank you email. I know how I feel today with a gift that was genuine and personal from my co-workers. 

Sure, they could have gotten together and purchased a nice gift card so that the wife and I could go to a fancy dinner. We would have enjoyed it. But it would not have had the same impact as their personal notes did. Here's why: the gift card is corporate. It feels like an easy thing to do. The gifts I got, and the words of praise and genuine smiles my wife received actually feel like individuals appreciating us individually. 

So take some time. Think about that person in your life who makes a difference for you through their actions, and then do something to make them feel appreciated. Show through more than a routine "thanks, here's coffee on me" gesture that they are special to you. Take a moment to impact them on a personal level by showing that you appreciate them.

You'll feel good about it, and so will they. Little by little, we can make the world better. This is a really easy way to start. 
I'll even provide you with an example:

I want to say thank you to Anne Driscoll, Audrey Monke, Alison Moeschberger, Carolyn Graham, and Steve Dimit for encouraging me to write. Without the BlazeBlog, I think I would have been a ship without a rudder this year, and you all helped me build the boat. Thanks.

1 comment:

  1. I couldn't agree more. I hate that we normally wait until someone has died to make them a beautiful slide show and say great things about them. That's why warm fuzzies are so good at camp! :) Keep up the great writing. Love the Blaze.