Music is one of the great gifts of God. A song can be so filled with emotion that it can carry a person to places unreachable or untouchable than more conventionally human ways. Not only can music lift the spirit, it can be a companion in grief, an outlet for anger, an encourager for love, an escape for the lonely or overwhelmed.

Sometimes, all it takes is a piano or guitar or violin playing a song. Whether it’s something classical or rock, jazzy or bluesy, I love listening to instrumentals. Just listen to Chris Botti play “What’ll I Do?” on his trumpet and you immediately are moved.

Other times the instrument of “voice” is most incredible. The blues of Greg Allman, the sweetness of Erin Bode, the cool of Frank Sinatra, the amazing sound that comes out of Kristin Chenoweth’s mouth.

And then there is music that transforms because of the words of the songwriter.

Frankly, I never have been one for poetry. But when certain poetry is set to music, it truly can draw me into experiences lived and imagined. Worship songs have a way of doing that for me. So do many love songs. They make you feel and think and wonder.

One of my favorites comes from the musical “Wicked.” The song is called “For Good,” a duet involving friends Glinda (the good witch) and Elphaba (the wicked witch of the West), as they muse whether their friendship has been beneficial.

Who can say if I’ve been changed for the better?

I do believe that I’ve been changed for the better

Because I knew you

Because I knew you

Because I knew you

I have been changed

For good

Glinda the Good and Elphaba, Wicked Witch of the West from the musical, "Wicked."

Glinda the Good and Elphaba, Wicked Witch of the West from the musical, “Wicked.”

Every time I hear the song or start to hum it to myself, I think about all of those people who have changed my life for the better simply because I knew them, and that change is permanent because it has become such a part of who I am.

I’m sure it’s easy for you to read those words and immediately think of the people who permanently have changed you for the better. At least I hope so. I quickly would name my wife, my parents and grandparents, my children and sisters, my closest friends. Those are easy for me.

I know it’s not necessarily the case for everyone, though. Not everyone’s dreams for their marriage turn out well. Not everyone had a great upbringing filled with wonderful memories of their families. That’s when you look for the less-than-obvious.

We all have people who, if we think a little deeper, we can recall had a major influence in the direction of our lives. They might have dropped into our lives for just a little while yet had a tremendous impact on decisions we made and people we became. Others have been a part of our lives perhaps on a regular basis but aren’t necessarily there for the big events as family or close friends, instead are there for the little-yet-important things.

I can think of several such people:

A nun who taught me in the sixth grade. When I went into the hospital for some surgery, she had everyone in my class create get-well cards to cheer me up. It worked. I remember feeling, for the first time in my life, that people not related to me actually liked me.

My eighth-grade teacher. She taught us grammar in a way that would stay with me the rest of my life. I became a writer and every day use the skills she taught me. She also expanded my horizons by being in charge of our school newspaper, our school speech team and our “Great Books” reading group. And she gave me a spot in a music performing group I belonged to throughout high school, which gave me confidence and a group of friends to whom I will remain close for the rest of my life.

My history, economics, and political science teacher in high school – all the same man. He taught college-level courses and challenged me in a way no one ever had before, and made me look at the world in a new way as well.

Several priests I have known through the years. Most especially, there was one who entrusted me with the responsibility of lining up Mass servers for funerals and weddings at our parish. That trust as an eighth-grader made me feel important. And being around him a lot in our youth group showed me that religious life could be fun along with holy.

And there was my boss for many years at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. He showed confidence in a young sportswriter, was encouraging, always was constructive with his criticism and dished out praise for a job well done. Beyond that he was a friend, a man who valued hard work, faith and family, and made me want to be like him.

So many others could come to mind as I sort through the years of my life. That includes people who have read things I have written and communicated to me that the words touched them. You never know how you might reach someone in a special and needed way when you offer a kind word or helping hand. And until you really examine the twists and turns of your life, you might forget some people who changed your life just because you knew them.

Spend some time in the next few days considering such people in your life. Perhaps reach out to them and thank them if you never have. Find some way to honor them by recalling how much better your life is because God introduced them to you.

Maybe you can leave their name in the comment section here and briefly note what role they had in your life. And pray for them out of gratitude – because you knew them.