We all hope that the work that we do or the life that we live will matter. For most of us, it may be just a personal recognition for something that we feel good about having done or accomplished.

Having a loving relationship with someone, or raising a family can give us great satisfaction, but usually it remains a quiet experience. Except for birthday celebrations where sentiments are generally issued through a greeting card or Facebook post, we mostly go through life unsung.

Some of us have devoted lots of energy into our jobs, working to be as good as we could be. The American work ethic is still a pretty strong influence for many — work hard, give it everything you have, be reliable and consistent, and you will be rewarded. When it all works out, it can be a very positive experience.

I was a teacher first and last in my long career. I began as a classroom teacher and ended my career as an adjunct at a local university.

My late wife Angela was also a teacher and devoted her entire career to her job teaching high school math. I always understood that she was a good teacher based on conversations that we had about teaching, the respect that she engendered from her colleagues, and incidental feedback from students.

It wasn’t until she passed that I was able to truly understand what an influence she had on her students. The online obituary was filled with lovely comments from former students and parents as well, chronicling how influential she was to them. I was so moved and pleased to know that what I knew about her as a professional was shared by so many.

Last week, I received an email from someone in response to a recent column that I wrote in the New Haven Register, {a sister paper to the ShoreLine Times} in which I reminisced about celebrating Christmas as a child. To my surprise and delight, the writer didn’t really want to spend a lot of time commenting on my column, rather he wanted to tell me his story of having been Angela’s student over 50 years ago.

Angela was the first math teacher hired in North Branford to staff the new high school. She was part of the core faculty that developed the curriculum and taught the very first students who graduated, and he among them.

The letter writer went on to tell me how much he learned from her, even though he didn’t believe that math was his strong point. He also told me how much he appreciated her skill to teach the subject matter, but more importantly, that she had high expectations for all of the students, and they in return, learned some very important non-math related lessons about applying themselves and working to do their very best.

I was so moved and pleased to be reading this kind and thoughtful note, that I reread it several times and then immediately sent it on to my sons. How wonderful, I thought, to be so admired and to have had such influence on the lives of the people you taught. This is what we all aspire to accomplish — leave something behind that means something to someone.

How do we manage to do that, I wonder? Do we all have that opportunity, or do you have to be someone special? I think that we all have an opportunity to influence someone in a way that can have a lasting effect.

As parents we have a major role to play in the lives of our children. There are so many stories that are told by children many years after the parents are gone that point to the lessons learned by example or practice. Parents doing their best, but not always knowing how well they succeeded; children recognizing later in their own lives how much they learned and how much they have to be grateful for.

In a personal relationship, we sometimes recognize the value of the other partner only when the relationship ends.

A coworker who manages to keep the workplace functioning smoothly and efficiently can make the job more pleasant for everyone. Sometimes those of us with less dramatic responsibilities become the more influential members of the work place, and later people recognize that person’s value to all.

Every organization that I have ever joined has had that one special individual who everyone remembers. Some among us even get to be noted for our accomplishments, but they are the exception. Some of us become saints while others lead saintly lives.

So we all have the opportunity to leave a legacy of some kind, large and not so large. It’s up to us to just do the best that we can, someone will appreciate and remember your efforts.

Connecticut Media Group