I recently attended the memorial service for a beloved and respected colleague, Michael Emmons.
Michael had a huge impact on my writing career. When we first met, he graciously agreed to read two of my first manuscripts. His tactful advice: “Make your style peppier.” I wisely heeded his suggestion and have been in print continuously for more than 30 years.
I doubt that he remembered helping me. It would have been an inconsequential event in his long, illustrious career. For me, it was a game changer. I think about him every time I face a blank piece of paper with an assignment and deadline attached.
None of us actually knows who we’ve impacted by our actions. Brief conversations at the supermarket or phone calls inquiring about a loved one’s health usually take place below our emotional radar. But they can be just what the listener needed to hear.
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Those of us working in the helping professions or in contact with people on a routine basis have more opportunity to leave a mark. Coaches, Scout leaders, teachers and pastors, to name just a few, are inherently primed to offer guidance. Yet even they don’t have concrete proof unless someone comes up years later and says, “I owe it all to you.”
Curiously, the length and grandeur of the interaction is frequently unrelated to the depth of its meaning. In fact, it’s often the unexpected, random interaction that truly rocks our core.
That may explain what really happens when we touch another’s life. In one indescribable moment, a person appears, is emotionally present and says a few oh-so-perfect words. Then poof! The spell is broken. It’s instantly transformed into a memory that we can re-experience on demand.
We never know when that moment will happen. We don’t know who, if anyone, will be better because we were there. All we can do is be open to the possibility. And live each day as if it will.
Linda Lewis Griffith is a local marriage and family therapist. For information or to contact her, visit lindalewisgriffith.com.
How to interact with others
- Be present. Step away from the computer terminal. Silence your cell phone. Tune in to the sounds, events and emotions that are occurring all around you.
- Volunteer. Whether you’re delivering meals to shut-ins or working backstage at your fourth-grader’s school play, you’ll be focusing on the needs of others.
- Be a good listener. Look into the speaker’s eyes. Understand the words and mood of the conversation. Keep your own input to a minimum.
- Share your skills and knowledge. Find the just-right activity that puts your special talents to use.
- Say yes. We all have time constraints and responsibilities. Be willing to lend a hand whenever possible.
- Accept others. Set aside judgments and expectations. Embrace all human beings as you find them.
- Allow time. Relationships can’t be rushed. Take time to hear people’s stories. Sit quietly with them when they are in need.