A few days ago, I received a touching email message from outdoors writer Len Rich (right, with a lovely brook trout), someone I had not spoken to in many years. Here's the complete text:
Back in the mid-1980s, following the untimely death of Ray Simmons, I sent you three sample columns about the outdoors of Newfoundland and Labrador. The rest is history. We began a weekly column called "In The Woods" which ran off and on for nearly a decade. It also spawned a new career for me as a freelance writer and photographer that has resulted in my authoring hundreds of feature articles, seven books (plus two in the works) and more recently a column titled "My Outdoors" for N & L community newspapers of TransContinental. As a result of my writing I have won several awards and recognition across the country. In 1991 I was a recipient of the Canada Recreational Fisheries Award, and recently the Jack Davis Mentoring Award from the Outdoor Writers of Canada. I am still actively writing as I approach my 70th birthday and have the same zeal as I did 20 years ago. I just want to thank you and acknowledge the start you gave me with the Newfoundland Herald, which has led to an avocation that has been extremely rewarding and satisfying. For more information about what I'm doing now just visit my website, www.lenrich.net. Thank you for this belief in my writing, which has given me a lifetime of enjoyment. Good to see you are still at it!
Everyone should receive an email like this. It does the heart good. If you have someone to whom you owe a word of thanks for anything from career guidance to helping you through a tough spot I suggest you express your gratitude to them. You will both feel better for it.
In the meantime, Len is indeed "actively writing". His latest book, "Memoirs of a Fly Fisher" (Jesperson) has just come back from the printer and should be making its way into book stores this week.
Len's note, and my reference to thanking someone who has had an impact on your life, reminded me of a guest column I wrote almost 10 years ago for The Telegram. I pored back through my archives, found it and have decided to post it here. It's a slice of real life that indulges in a bit of honest sentimentality, and I did receive some positive feedback on it at the time. If Jackie and Jerry read this, well, I hope you are still doing fine!
A humble thank you' in return
By Geoff Meeker
Sometimes, what we say and do can have a major impact on another person's life. Too seldom, I fear, do people repay the favour by actually expressing their thanks, therefore denying their benefactors one of life's sweet thrills. My story is the exception.
The year was 1998, and I had decided to sell my home privately. I had no sooner placed the first open house' sign at the foot of the driveway when a young couple appeared at the door. Jackie and Jerry loved everything about the house, and made it clear that they would be getting back with an offer.
They did come back, but with a problem, not an offer. We sat in the kitchen, and Jerry explained his dilemma over a cup of coffee. He was underemployed for his level of training, and it looked like they might be forced to leave to find more meaningful work elsewhere.
At this point, I offered some heartfelt advice, founded upon several years of public relations work at the now-defunct Economic Recovery Commission (ERC). I had worked on several campaigns at the ERC to promote and celebrate entrepreneurship and innovation. I helped develop the Ambassador program, the Getting the Message Out initiative and the Manufactured Right Here campaign, which all survive to this day. I wrote a report for ACOA about entrepreneurship in the province, offering ideas on how it might be strengthened. And I became so enthused about prospects for business success in this province that I took a job in the private sector, with one of the companies I had profiled in the Ambassador newsletter. About a year later, I left that company to co-found a business of my own.
"If you would rather live in this province, then you have no choice but to stay and make it work," I told Jackie and Jerry. "There are opportunities here, but you've got to seek them out."
I told them about some of the neat businesses and fabulous people who were gradually transforming our economy, one job at a time. I told them about some of the challenges that my business had encountered and overcome. I griped about how the school system had failed me as a child, by teaching me to think like a good little employee, not an entrepreneur.
"Don't leave now and spend the rest of your days wondering what if...'," I told them. "Stay and raise your children in the place that you love. And if you can't find a job, bloody well create one."
We met once more this time sharing a beer and spoke several times on the phone, as the couple wrestled with what to do next. As it turned out, we accepted another offer on the house before Jackie and Jerry could sort things out, and we lost touch after that.
It was a full two years before I ran into them again, in April of 2000, at a downtown nightspot. Jackie was out with her colleagues, celebrating and mourning her last day at work. She was leaving her job to start a business of her own! What's more, Jerry was now teaching high school, and feeling quite fulfilled. In no time, Jackie fixed me with a level gaze.
"You will never know what an impact you've had on our lives," she said. "Those things that you told Jerry and me, they really affected us. It was what we needed to hear. And because you were in the early stages of growing a business, you were living proof that what you were saying was true. You made us realize that staying here really was an option. So we stayed and made a go of it. We want to thank you for sharing your thoughts with us. It really made a difference."
Then her eyes filled up, and a single tear rolled down her cheek. This was definitely for real. I'm a sentimental person, so my eyes filled up right on cue, and another tear was spilled. We chatted excitedly for another half-hour before they were escorted away by friends. But I won't soon forget the moment of triumph and elation that we shared that evening.
I had spent several years working behind the scenes, toiling to boost this province's entrepreneurial spirit. And had it made a difference? I hope so. But the truth is, I'll never know. That's what made this moment so much more meaningful than anything that had gone before. My damn-the-torpedoes optimism had actually made a difference in someone else's life.
Jackie and Jerry didn't need to share this fact with me, but they did, blessing me with a proud, humbling moment that will stay with me always. I thank them for their generosity, and encourage them to continue spreading that optimism around. To other young people who are thinking about leaving Newfoundland, I can only say think twice.
And to all you people who owe a special debt of gratitude to someone else but have never voiced your feelings, I say: get it off your chest. Tell them! It's a remarkable gift, but it's worthless unless you actually give it.