Today was the 25th anniversary of a high school friend losing his mother. He recalls learning of his mothers’ passing in 1987, sitting in front of a classroom door…recalling it “as if it happened yesterday.” I was reminded of this somewhat by accident. I don’t remember the day – for me it sits in the back of my mind as just another day in late junior year of high school. For him, his whole world changed.
What strikes me about this is that he tells me, “You were there that day. I really appreciated your genuineness. Little things make a big difference, and you did make a difference for me that day. You may not even remember. But I do.” I don’t remember. I can’t imagine my 17-year-old self having any degree of genuiness in sharing grief with another young man whose world had just changed.
I didn’t dare ask him for details – he was reliving a grief on the anniversary of his mother’s passing, and it was not about me – but I have to admit wanting to know what I could possibly have said or demonstrated to him to have caused him to recall a genuine response and to have made a difference for this young man. This was at a point in my life when nothing truly bad had ever happened to me. I had both grandfathers pass away within months of each other when I was but 8-years old, but other than that my life was relatively untouched by trauma. I had no point of reference, and no word in my vocabulary for “empathy,” never mind a true ability to demonstrate it. I apparently had said or done something right at the right time.
I have no idea what it could have been, but he remembers it…and says that I made a difference. I’m not sure I know how that makes me feel. I don’t know if I should take pride in knowing that at some point in my life I have made a difference for one person at one point in time, or I should be ashamed not to know what it was. I had to triangulate a bit to realize that I would have been there, and I felt badly not to have remembered what surely would have been significant news in our small high school – I can’t remember an announcement, nothing. But there I apparently was. Wednesday, March 27, 1987.
I’m still not sure I know how I feel about failing to remember, but it does speak to this truth: you never know what small gesture will live on behind you, whether or not you remember. Kindness and, indeed, slights, can be remembered a long time and it is a choice we continuously make in choosing our path. I can’t believe he would have remembered something that surely was but a small gesture, especially given the magnitude of the experience for him, but he does which only makes it that much more important to remember to demonstrate kindness – no matter how small – to someone at any chance you can. When else can a small gesture, a small emotional investment, and brief time commitment live on for 25 years or longer? When thought about in these terms, however that genuiness took shape all those years ago it could have only lasted a few moments – a few moments which were fleeting moments of time regardless of how they were spent – but those moments live on. An exponential return of time for a few wisely spent moments by a then young man, and recalled not at all by the now middle-aged man.
Little things mean a lot – a point driven home once again.