024. Life Changing Experiences

We touch the lives of others in ways we often never know. People sometimes come into our personal world for fleeting moments and can leave us forever changed. We have more power to create or to destroy than we can imagine. We can leave things or individuals better or worse than we found them. A look, a word, a gesture has tremendous impact and frequently we blither along through our existence unaware of the mighty power that our communication wields.

Here’s an example:

It was a rainy, humid day: the mother of all bad hair days. I was riding on a bus downtown to go to work. The windows on the bus were covered in condensation so thick you couldn’t see outside. Everyone was wilting. I was sitting next to a man in a business suit and didn’t pay much attention until we both got off at the same stop and walked to the same newsstand to get a morning paper.

The man running the stand was obviously having a bad day. He was rude, abrupt and unsmiling as we purchased our papers, which served to only add more gloom to my day. The businessman caught my eye and smiled. He then proceeded to smile brightly, thank the newsstand proprietor for the paper and for being open on such a morning to make sure we were able to get our papers. In short, he expressed his appreciation for something most of us would take for granted.

The man running the newsstand responded only with a grunt and a sour expression. The businessman then pleasantly wished him a pleasant day.

As we turned away, I asked this man why he had continued to be pleasant to the newsman when he obviously didn’t care about and didn’t respond to his expression of appreciation and friendliness. The businessman grinned at me and said, "Why would I let someone else control what I say and what I feel or what kind of day I’m going to have?"

We then separated to go to our respective work places. To this day, I don’t know who that business man was, where he worked, or anything else about him. I never saw him again, even though I looked for him on the bus on other days. He appeared briefly in my life and disappeared just as quickly. I don’t even remember what he looked like. But I’ve never forgotten the words he said or the way his smile seemed like a shaft of light on a gloomy day.

That was a good 25 years ago, but the impact this had on my life has lasted. I never had a chance to thank him personally, but the way in which I try to choose to look at life as a result of those words is his legacy to me and my thanks to him.

Our interactions with the people we encounter can impact at least the next five people that person encounters. A smile and words of simple appreciation multiply themselves geometrically.

We cannot control people and situations that come to us, but we can always control our response to them. And in such positive decisions lie our control and personal power to make a positive difference. And it’s something anyone and everyone can do. It is a real legacy that can impact both the present and the future.

– Gail Pursell Elliott

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