I actually found this piece tonight in a file search. I was looking for something else. It spoke to me today as much as it moved me to write it in February of 2000. The lesson is still as important today as it was then. I cried once more.

One of Life’s Tough Lessons: We Do Make a Difference
By Susan Fitzell, February 15, 2000

I have something to share tonight… not sure why, except that I need to…

I went to a concert at my son’s school. There was a resident artist there, a musician, Randy Armstrong, that I have been following since my college days. Wow, that’s over 20 years.

It was a wonderful concert and to see the spark that Randy ignited in my son by inspiring a passion for the African drum was a wonderful thing.

But, the night was bitter sweet.

Well over a year ago, the principal at my children’s school, Mr. F. had a sudden aneurysm and stroke. He is probably in his early 50’s. He had all kinds of complications that didn’t allow him to recover, as we would have hoped.

He was a man who lived his life for his school. He had been the principal there for at least twenty years. I was fortunate enough to get to know him when he allowed me to do my conflict resolution practicum in his school. To my daughter, he was an extremely special man. My son, although he only knew him for a little over a year in school, had tottered around the building from the time he was two. He also, knew the principal well.

I consider myself to be a very spiritual person, however, I had a very hard time accepting that this charismatic man, this man who had given his life for the community’s children, this man who would bend over backward to help me, my children, and set such a strong positive role model for generations of children would be dealt such a blow.

I know it is not my place to question why things happen the way they do. Even if I do question, there are no answers. All I can think of is the loss that everyone who loves him feels and the loss for all the children who won’t know this great man the way he was.

He came to the show tonight. As he entered on his walker, he looked frail. The entire auditorium rose and cheered and let out whoops of happiness to see him. I did to. But, then I cried. I’m not sure all that I’m crying for, but the tears flow nevertheless.

My daughter wanted to see him after the show. She was his shining star. She knew that. She was warned that he might not remember her name, but, in her young mind, her hope was that he would. She thought, “How could he forget her?”

I went with her. I’m grateful that I was there to support her. As she met him, he looked at her like he knew her, but kept saying, “I can’t remember your name.” He looked at me, and I saw recognition in his eyes, but pain. I told him who we were and he started to cry. He said, “I can’t remember names. This stroke did this. It’s so frustrating, I can’t remember names.” I hugged him, and said it was OK.  But, I knew, to him, it wasn’t. One of the things he prided himself in all his years as principal was that he knew every name of every child in the school.

My daughter and I came home. We had a bedroom talk about life, fairness, expectations, letting go, life lessons and harsh realities. And, we cried. I tried to tell her that the past has not changed. She still holds it in her heart and her mind. And the future is just different. Maybe there is a lesson for us to learn here, too.

I am a teacher. He, a principal, was also a teacher. In a different way, he still is one. So many times in life, we wonder what we give to our students, our families, our children, and the world. So many times we question the value of our own lives or our own contribution. Maybe it is not ours to question. Only those who experience life with us, whose lives we have touched and whose lives have touched ours, can really know what it is that we give. Could he have really known how much he was loved? How much he gave to the children in his building? I doubt it.

He is still touching my life. His experience has made me look at life differently. I guess facing your own mortality does that.

People constantly tell me to rest, to slow down, that I will die young if I keep the pace that I keep. Well, there are two ways to look at life. One way is to go through life more relaxed attempting to preserve my health and savor the moments. The other is to live every moment with as much gusto as I can because I can’t foresee the future. My life as I know it could change tomorrow. So, I want to experience everything that I can and give as much as I can to the world now, while I can.

Another thing he is teaching me is that as teachers, principals, peacemakers, humans contributing to the world, even when we think our contribution is minimal, that our efforts are in vain, that our voices are not heard, someone we have touched has learned from what we have given, has grown from our efforts, and has heard our words. We just seldom know it.

My daughter told me of her first memory with Mr. F. It was a simple moment of teasing over a troll she had in show and tell. I’m sure he walked away that day and thought no more of it. But, 7 years later, she still remembers it. To her, it meant he noticed her, that he cared for her, that he liked her. At that time, *that* was important to her.

We touch lives. Even the mistakes we make in our lives are opportunities for ourselves and others to grow. We touch lives for good or for bad. Sometimes it is the smallest of acts that is remembered. For me, tonight was a powerful reminder of that simple truth because this man has touched my life more than he could ever know.