- “Story is the basic unit of human understanding.” On Saturday, March 18th, Drew Dudley, the keynote speaker for the Teachers College Saturday Reunion, made this profound statement. And for me, listening to that speech has been the type of experience that has become a lens through which I currently view the world. Yesterday, I had the good fortune to hear a story of how one person can unknowingly make a profound difference for another.
One of my colleagues has shared with me that her husband now lives with a mental disability that affects his short-term memory. However, despite this impediment, he still enjoys coaching middle school sports (alongside a head coach), particularly soccer and softball. The problem is, sometimes he is unable to remember to come to practice each day. Last fall, one of his athletes, who shall be known as “Andrea” here, took it upon herself to call him each day to remind him about soccer practice. And each day, he would thank her, get in his car, and drive to practice.
But that’s not the story.
Many months later, my colleague, amidst another hectic day of middle school, was rushing down the hall to a meeting. Suddenly, she heard a voice from the cafeteria. It was a parent’s voice. A quick exchange ensued. “I’m sorry,” my colleague explained, “I can’t really talk right now. I must get to a meeting.” The parent in the cafeteria waved her on, understanding completely.
The meeting ended before scheduled, and upon her return to her classroom, my colleague decided to stop in at the cafeteria…just to see if maybe that parent might still be there. She was. Entering the cafe, my colleague engaged the parent, letting her know her meeting had ended and she had a few minutes. “We wanted you to know something,” the parent began. It was Andrea’s mother. “Interacting with you and your husband last fall has changed Andrea’s life,” she explained.
Somewhat taken aback, my colleague felt a bit shocked by this news. Andrea’s mom continued. “Allowing her to call him every day and work with him as a coach has sparked something inside her. She not only loves him dearly, but now wants to learn more about people with disabilities, how to work them and help them. It’s just amazing. It’s changed the trajectory of her life.” The parent looked my colleague in the eye. “It really has changed her life. And we want to thank you and your husband for this.”
Drew Dudley, in his keynote address, discussed a second fundamental truth: You never know how your story, your actions, will affect others. “Do people smile at the mere mention of your name?” he asked. For Andrea, the mere mention of my colleague’s husband’s name certainly does.