Meeting Strangers Strange to Some

 

The other day I found myself talking with a good friend about people – and how he never seems to meet a stranger.

If we are lucky in life, we know someone like my friend. His interest in other people is genuine, not manufactured. While we joke he’s never met a stranger, the truth is, he finds people and their personal stories absolutely fascinating.

We found ourselves talking about how the night before I’d watched as a lady, with a cell phone cradled up to her ear, waited in line, checked out, and walked out the store without ever saying a word or acknowledging the young clerk behind the counter.

My friend shook his head.

Most people, understandably, would point to the actions (or inaction) of the customer as the key event in the story. To my friend, however, he recognized how the customer might have just missed out on an opportunity to meet an interesting person. He believes everyone has a story — if we’ll just take the interest to listen.

In today’s world, where we all are so seemingly busy, are we insulating ourselves from the joy of meeting new people as we hide behind a wall of technology?

Today, while walking through a department store, everywhere I looked I found people with cell phones pressed to their ears. The experience brought back memories how recently, while walking through a beautiful big city downtown, everyone was seemingly deeply engaged in a conversation with someone at the other end a cell tower. Oddly, I felt nearly invisible to these busy people while walking the streets of their city.

There is an old saying “God gave you two ears and one mouth. Use them accordingly.”

Fortunately, my friend learned this lesson early in life. With his bright eyes, you feel as if you are the only person in the world that matters when he speaks with you. This is truly a gift – to the recipient.

I know another friend whose family teases him about him never meeting an older person he’d didn’t befriend in a matter of minutes.

“Whenever we find him missing,” said his wife, “we always find him off talking with an older person or senior citizen he’s never met before.”

Fortunately I’m learning from my friends. While I believe many of these people are born with special gift, I think we can all improve our lives by taking time to slow down and speak with others. Can’t each of us afford to invest a couple minutes a day reaching out to acknowledge or meet a new person?

Let’s learn from these talented people. Everyone has a story to tell, advice they learned, lessons to share. And people, for the most part, are welcome to meeting others and making new friends.

Learning to genuinely like people, while a gift, is a skill each of us can develop. Imagine how colorful life is for those who are out there meeting and learning from others. And the good news is, the rest of us can play too. And the first step is as easy as is learning to use our two ears and one mouth in the correct order.

 

– 30 –

Blessing Game Pays Dividends

Today’s world makes it all too easy for many of us to find ourselves in a dark place. The simple act of turning on the evening newscast can routinely deliver war, poverty and economic strife right into your living room. And for many, this unfortunately defines their expectations of our world.

That is except for my friend – the one who approached me at a local coffee shop the other day.

His eyes are always smiling, his clothes neatly pressed, and he makes it his business to leave a little bit of sunshine everywhere he goes.

“Hello there!” he says from across the room as he crosses my way.

If you’ve ever known someone who could ‘will’ the world into a better place, it’s my friend.

We spoke for a few minutes before he brought up a story about someone we both know whom he’d spoken to recently.

“Yes, she was a bit down – not sure why,” he said, adding a pause.

“That is,” he continued, “until I invited her to play the ‘blessing game’ with me.”

“The what?” I asked?

“The blessing game,” he said, “where you take a few moments to reflect on the blessings you have in life. You’d be surprised what a difference it can make in your day.”

He began by telling me about how he invited her to play along – my friend asking questions to lead their conversation.

“Well, to start with, we’re blessed to live in the United States, wouldn’t you agree? Where else in the world is there so much freedom and opportunity?”

“How about your health? You’re healthy, aren’t you?”

“How about your family?”

“How about that you’ve a job in today’s world?”

As he continued I began to see his reasoning – the brilliant simplicity of his words. Practically everyone we know can play this game and finish feeling better about themselves. Each of us, although our lives are unique, are blessed in both quantities and qualities we, too, many times overlook. Most people are rich beyond their dreams – particularly if we leave the dollars and cents out of the equation.

You don’t need to be a believer in God to appreciate the blessings in life most people take for granted. While most of us understand and give thanks to our creator, even an atheist would be hard-pressed to deny the comparatively blessed world in which they exist.

For the most part,  those reading this column live in a world where job one for the day is not about worrying where to get food for the next meal. Nor is it a struggle to keep a literal roof over their heads. And for the most part, their future can be altered for the better with hard work, effort and determination. And for those not so fortunate, there are many who want desperately to help through donations, offering hot meals, or just being there for them.

After my friend finished his story I found myself mulling over his powerful self-revealed lesson at the end. And much like those he teaches “the blessing game,” I, too, felt better about myself.

 

– 30 –

Hitting the homestretch hits home

Suddenly – in a timespan of decades — my wife and I are finding our time of raising children is abruptly coming to close.

Our youngest, our 17-year old daughter, is a senior in high school. And much like her older brother, who moved off to college a few years earlier, she is planning to follow the still fresh footprints leading out the front door. With a heavy sense certitude, the cutting of the parental 24-hour tether is fast approaching in our home.

Not that we are sad. Actually, we are very proud she is stepping forward in life, finding her way under a roof of her making. She’s earned this opportunity with her maturity and good decision-making skills.

What feels odd is the look my wife and I share when we both  recognize we are  experiencing a moment with our daughter for possibly the last time.

Suddenly, from our perspective, there are very few tomorrows.

Like most everyone, I’ve tried to navigate balancing family life and a career. When events came up with the kids, my wife and I always worked to figure out a way for me to attend as many opportunities as possible. And when I couldn’t, my wife understood and moved onto plan B and we made the best of the situation.

But this year things are different. In the past I could always rationalize with myself by saying “well, you can make the meeting next year,” or “if I leave at 5 I’ll get there a bit late and won’t miss too much.”

But this year, as our daughter heads down the homestretch of her time under our roof, each moment or opportunity carries a bit more finality.

“So are you excited about becoming empty nesters?” we are asked with increasing regularity.

Well, to be honest, we’re sure this next stage will a bit of an adjustment.

But this year, as events related to our daughter continue to present themselves, my wife and I find ourselves digging in our heels, making sure we capture each and every opportunity. My wife puts off a project here, I miss a meeting there, but in the end, we are working together to make sure we’ve our daughter’s homestretch year in the forefronts of our minds (and calendar).

And in an interesting turn, this is simplifying our lives.

The other day I noticed an all-day meeting on my calendar on the same day my daughter is participating in a mid-day parade for her senior year. Not too long ago I would find myself running an equation of balancing out what needed to get done and if there were any similar opportunities in the future.

But this year, the formula does not include any cumbersome algebraic computations or pesky variables to weigh against each other. No, as our daughter, heads down the home stretch, my wife and I know — with absolute certainty – there is no more important place in the world for us to be than standing along the figurative final straightaway as our daughter races towards the finish line.

– 30 –

Children Become Soldiers For All Of Us

 

I suddenly see children serving in the military.

This week my daughter, a senior in high school, shared with me how a couple of her friends are leaving to serve in the Navy.

“Yeah,” she said, “they leave next weekend.”

Her voice is calm, but the words carry an unusual weight as they pass between us. There is something unspoken between us, maybe an odd recognition of life transitioning around her. The real world is arriving at her doorstep.

I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised, but for some reason, this affects me as well.

For the past several years our home seemed to serve as a place she and her friends would spend hours occupying the living room – that is between runs to the refrigerator. We simply could not keep enough Cokes or snacks in the house.

They were young teenagers spreading their wings of independence while exploring the unfolding world around them. I can remember times waking up and going downstairs to find more than a dozen sleeping throughout the house. And some I met for the first time when offering them a cup of coffee.

And like most parents, we recognize the good in kids and welcomed them into our home.

I guess what strikes me odd is to picture them in uniform. The military is not a transitional period of life but rather an honorable and mature commitment to both our nation and to one’s self. Furthermore, there are no “drop/add” deadlines if you decide you don’t like the teacher or find the homework too much trouble.

And green hair color, as one of her friends experimented with, will not fly when he arrives for induction.

I’ve hired or worked with hundreds of individuals who earned the right to call themselves former members of our armed forces. And to me, there is something very special and valuable about the way they look at the world. Never am I surprised when I discover someone whom I consider to exhibit tremendous character and work ethic to have served in the military. I know from personal experience, these people understand the true meaning of responsibility

I never served in the military. And for what it is worth, that bothers me more with each passing year. No matter how hard I worked in college or whatever I did after graduation, there will always be a part of me feeling as if I didn’t do my part when compared to those who served our country.

So now, as some of my daughter’s friends begin to make life-impacting decisions, I can’t help but want to shake the hand of each and every one of those electing to serve. Odds are they probably do not yet understand or appreciate the incalculable value of what they are doing for both themselves and those around them.

No matter where their lives will lead them, these young people, who spent the better part of the past couple of years playing video games or working out tunes in a local garage band, are crossing a powerful and life-changing threshold.

This is not a new story, a nation’s youth stepping forward to serve. And I imagine there are countless others who’ve watched from the sidelines as “kids” moved from the sofa to serving our nation.

We as a nation are truly blessed to know these exceptional young people. Let us all wish them – and all those who serve our nation – Godspeed.

 

– 30 –