Chicken Soup For the Soul Submission – Authored by Mark Mason
Seeing With Your Heart
“It is only with the heart that one can see rightly, what is essential is invisible to the eye.” ~ Antoine de St. Exupery
It was a beautiful southern California morning, complete with blue sky, cool breeze and a warm sun. I walked through the parking lot of the shopping plaza thinking of little else than my rendezvous with a pecan roll at the local bakery. As I strolled in front of the grocery store adjacent to the bake shop, I noticed a young African American woman standing next to the store entrance with bags of groceries neatly stacked. As is my practice with strangers, I made eye contact with her and said with a smile, “Hello, there! And how are you today?” She smiled back and responded with a Southern accent, “I’m fine, sir. How are you?”
“I’m doing well, thank you!” I had only taken a few steps past her when I heard her say, “Thank you for seeing me!” Her words brought me to a stop. Still smiling, I turned around and walked over to her, extending my hand. “My name’s Mark. What’s yours?”
For the next twenty minutes, I listened with rapt attention to Dominique share her story. She had grown up in Louisiana where her mother and sisters still lived. Three years ago, a family tragedy prompted her to make the move to California, where without contacts or the promise of employment she had managed to create for herself a life of purpose and fulfillment. She spoke with an easy Southern charm and a smile that radiated joy.
A car pulled up to the curb. Dominique introduced me to the driver, a friend of hers. I helped her load the groceries into the back seat. She thanked me and opened the front passenger-side door. “My daddy used to say that a person will remember how you made them feel long after they’ve forgotten what you said. I know I’ll remember this for a long time.” I smiled, knowing I would as well. The car drove away, but I stood there for a moment longer before stepping inside the bakery.
Sipping my coffee, with the remnants of a pecan roll on my plate, I looked around the bakery at the people there. I nodded to the regulars sitting at their favorite tables, some reading the daily newspaper, others on their laptops. Business-types hurried to the counter to pick up the to-go orders they had phoned in. I smiled thinking about what I had just experienced with Dominique, two strangers who had made a connection based on nothing more than a shared humanity and experience of life.
Every person has a story if you’re willing to take the time to listen. Greeting a stranger with a smile and a kind word is a very small thing to do and yet can have a profound effect on both people. One of my favorite quotes is from Mother Teresa, “Not all of us can do great things, but we all can do small things with great love.” I have found that the benefit of doing these small things not only helps me to maintain a positive outlook on life, but may even sow a few seeds of hope for someone else.
Perhaps I’m ascribing too much significance to the potential of what a simple ‘hello’ between two strangers can do. Certainly, not all of my encounters are as dramatic as the one I had shared with Dominique. And yet, I cannot shy away from doing it simply because I don’t know how the other person might react. I have done this hundreds of times over the past few years and it has never been met with anything other than a positive response.
When I share with others what I do and encourage them to give it a try, I’m usually met with comments like, “Well, that’s easy for you, Mark. You’re an outgoing person.” At which point I assure them that I am anything but outgoing. Yes, it has become easier over the years, but I still have to make a conscious effort to do it. When somebody steps up beside me at the self-serve coffee for a refill, rather than turn to them and say, ”Hello! How are you doing today?” my natural inclination is to remain silent and mind my own business.
Dominique’s words, “Thank you for seeing me,” reminded me of a conversation I had with a friend just a week prior. He and I were sharing our perceptions on how technology is making a bid to redefine human relationships. Social media is creating a society where we are becoming more connected, but less relational. A society where we can all be alone – together. We are in danger of losing the ability to have real conversations.
Don’t get me wrong. I always enjoy reading a text from my wife or daughter that says, “Thinking of you. Love you.” I’m on Facebook and find it useful to keep tabs on what’s going on with my friends (I especially appreciate the birthday notifications). But no amount of texts, tweets or Facebook posts will ever amount to having a REAL conversation with another person. People have a need to be seen. A need to be heard. A need to be treated as if they matter. Because they do.
One particular restaurant chain understands this. New employees are required to watch a short three-minute training video that captures a few minutes of activity inside one of their restaurants. There is a simple instrumental soundtrack with captions that appear whenever the camera focuses on an actor portraying either a customer or staff member. Each caption gives a brief description of one aspect of that person’s life at that moment before moving on to the next person. The snippets of information cover the spectrum, from joyful and celebratory to somber and even heart-wrenching. One caption for an older male customer reads: After years of battling cancer, is finally free of the disease. The camera pans to a young female staff member. The caption says: Worked hard through high school, was accepted to the college of her dreams. Then there’s a shot of an elderly woman sitting by herself in a booth. The caption reads: Husband died one month ago. Today would have been their 50th anniversary.
It doesn’t take much to brighten the day of a stranger. To smile. To offer a friendly greeting. To engage in a brief conversation. To see someone. I sincerely hope you try it and discover for yourself just how good it makes you feel.
Oh, and one more thing. Don’t be surprised if one day a bespectacled, white-haired man walks up to you smiling and says, “Hello, there! And how are you doing today?” It might just be me!