This I Believe

Lesley - Parkland, Florida
Entered on October 24, 2007

I believe in the power of connection.

When I was a little girl, people were always telling me that my mother and father were charming. It seemed as though everyone said this to me – their friends, my teachers, my friend’s parents, sometime even my friends – so often that I would think to myself “not again”! I was incredibly jealous of this magical quality called charm. What was so special about them? And, why did people never say it about ME!

What was this charm? I think about my mother – always listening and asking questions; her sincere interest in, and empathy for, her friends’ joys and sorrows; how it carries forward to the woman selling her a dress, or the man with the dry cleaning. She always ends up knowing something about their lives; making a connection.

My father was the Director of Pathology in a large hospital. He told me that he made a point of learning every janitor’s name, of saying hello to the orderlies. It continually pained him to see other hospital staff walk by employees as though they were invisible. He always speaks about recognizing everyone as fellow human beings.

I began to realize that this was far more than charm. This was a lifelong commitment to connect to people so that when you said goodbye, you left them better than they had been before.

I loved this idea – this valuing of individuals – one connection at a time. I started chatting to cashiers and security guards; if someone spoke French, I’d use mine. Sometimes I would make jokes on the telephone when I made a doctor’s appointment. And sometimes I was pathetic – I once waited at a turnpike rest stop in the ladies room to thank the cleaner who I had seen, but she never came back.

I wonder – what do I leave in my wake as I walk out with my groceries or hang up the phone? I wonder – am I charming?

I do know that doing this has become crucial to who I am now. I think about EM Forster’s “only connect”. I think about my 80 year old plus parents and their chats with conversation-starved waiters, friendships struck up with fellow travelers and concert goers; regular dinners with friends now widows or widowers. It has been their way of life for at least the 60 years they have been married. They make a statement to all who meet them – You are worthwhile.

Now my only argument is that so few have truly understood that what they saw at work is something far deeper than mere charm – it is humanity.

I cannot do this all the time myself. It doesn’t always come naturally, and sometimes – I admit it – I don’t feel like doing it. But when I don’t, I am aware that I have missed an important opportunity. A moment of time to value another human being – to create a connection that makes for a better day for them, and, I’ve discovered, a charmed life for me.