As I’ve mentioned before, I have a real issue dealing with incoming mail. As in, I hate it and I’m not good at it. Typically, I’ll flip through for anything that looks personal or urgent, and the rest gets dumped in the mail bowl. I’ve started getting my mail by walking through the garage, which means I pass the recycling bin. This has significantly cut back on the paper actually entering my house. However, the mail bowl? Umm … still a shameful and prominent feature of the home.

So, that explains why I was reading a three-month-old alumni magazine like it was hot off the press. My alma mater puts together a nice publication, but I almost pitched this copy into the recycling bin without glancing at it. However, something made me pick it up. And I’m glad I did.

I always like reading the class notes section, even though I usually don’t know anybody. I like reading the notes about the graduates of the 30s and 40s. It always makes me think of a note on a golden graduation reunion message board when I worked for the university. One man scrawled, “Came here with $40. Lived in a chicken coop. Left rich.”

And that is the true meaning of higher education.

Anyway … the class notes section. A familiar name popped up in the alumni deaths column. My friend Lynn passed away in December. I had to read the announcement several times to make it sink in. Lynn was old enough to be my mom but one of those eternally young people who defy age.

I met Lynn when I was 22, working for the university and trying to figure out who I was and what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wore button-down shirts, dress pants, and chunky oxfords. I looked like a Republican … especially in comparison to the vintage jewelry and “I swear this is a dressy t-shirt” look I typically rock now.

I didn’t know who I was, but I knew on some level that I wasn’t happy. Oh, and I worked with these two crazy people who screamed at each other all day and sometimes successfully pulled me into the fray.

When I met with Lynn for a project, we immediately identified each other as kindred souls. Lynn took me under her wing while simultaneously treating me as an equal – no easy task, especially when dealing with a freaking out 22-year-old.

Lynn took everything with a grain of salt, and taught by example that this was indeed possible. She was filled with joy over finding the love of her life in middle age and marrying for the first time. She told hilarious stories about her basset hound puppy, and whenever we met for lunch, she always had a book en tow, just in case she needed to wait for a few minutes. Lynn squeezed all of the life she could out of every moment.

Mostly, she made me feel like everything was OK. And I am eternally grateful.

There’s been a scholarship set up in Lynn’s memory, and I’m going to make a gift there. But I feel like the greatest way I can honor her and her life is to pay it forward. It seems like such a simple thing to befriend a young person who is finding their way, but holy cow, it sure made a difference to me. I learned so much, and I am so, so thankful that our paths crossed. Lynn was a blessing in my life. And she probably never even realized it.

Who’s been a surprise influence to you? How do you honor that gift?

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