Recently, as I stood at the table waiting impatiently to vote, a poll worker asked me, how could I look so fresh after having worked all day? I wasn’t sure I heard her correctly, so unprepared was I for a compliment like that from a stranger. It completely turned my day around, I enthusiastically told her so, and we both ended up feeling better about ourselves for the brief encounter.
This chance encounter has started me seriously analyzing relationships and how I’d been tending to them. Too many times I’ve let the opportunity to say something nice about a person pass. It doesn’t have to be someone I know well, or at all. The times I’ve shared a casual “That’s a pretty dress” as I walk by a stranger, shows me the power a few shared thoughts have to make its wearer stand just a little taller. My voicing that thought makes me feel almost as good as the recipient.
Kindness isn’t always given with words. At Thanksgiving time, I watched a woman spontaneously walk up to three servicemen in fatigues waiting in the airport concourse and solemnly shake, in turn, each man’s hand, then walk away. She didn’t know these men and no words were spoken. It was a small moment of grace I felt privileged to witness. Sometimes it’s about silently sitting with someone who is grieving and letting them just lean their head against your shoulder. At funerals it’s not about what you say after the service, or the floral arrangement size. It’s that you took the time to come. It’s two hours out of your day but it means the world to the family.
We don’t have the fondest memories of the coolest or easiest teachers, it’s the ones who went beyond and shared themselves with us. Mine was a chorus teacher who brought out the shy singer and in whose senior yearbook advised to learn to accept compliments gracefully. It stung a little then but I’ll never forget the wisdom or the giving heart behind it. When the director of my community chorale gave me a “brava” after I’d mastered a particularly difficult Mozart passage recently, I felt both great pleasure at the words and deep gratitude for the kind heart that prompted him to utter them. My husband, who, at mid-life, is in a doctorate program was so proud when one of his professors thought so much of something my husband said that he asked him to write it down so that the professor might use it in the future. Not as proud, though, as when a former student stops by to tell him of the positive influence he provided. It’s by their example that these everyday angels teach me to pass it on.
Call it the Golden Rule, paying it forward, whatever you wish; it’s the simple concept of treating others as we wish to be treated. And the best part is that it costs so little but pays back so much.
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