It’s been my mission to find the people who can glimpse past the noise of life, past their own challenges, and see another’s pain. These are people who, in their compassion to humanity, stand as lighthouses during life’s storms. It is my hope that in so doing, we — me included — may be inspired to rise up to our callings, for when we need reminding. For us to remember to walk alongside others on their journey for even a little while, to do so more consistently, or in some way step up our game, when we get caught up focusing on our smaller worlds. We don’t see that sometimes it takes something small to lighten a burden, and that by extending ourselves in those small ways we add to making this world a better and brighter place.
Hannah (not real name) endeavored to make me feel comfortable at a dinner after a lecture where I didn’t know other guests and she knew several. We had never met before. She came in with her father, he went to sit with other guests, and she came and sat beside me. I had no clue I was about to receive incredible lessons in humanity. Hannah told me how she thought that at one point she might not be getting on well with her new neighbor. What happened, she told me, is that when she greeted her the first few times, her neighbor simply either looked down or looked the other way. We try to make meaning of people’s behaviors and, the judgmental and defensive creatures we can be, I think a good many of us would, in this instance, have returned the same in kind.
All the great religions tell us to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. She made a decision to herself to say good morning, every single day to her neighbor. The two women stepped out to head to work at the same time. Clearly, Hannah could anticipate this too, and could have looked down or away when passing by. She could have even thought herself great for “trying” to be neighborly for a week or two. Yet, every single morning Hannah mustered the courage to say a pleasant “good morning” greeting — for a whole year! After a year to the same month, one morning the woman stopped in front of Hannah for the first time, and burst into tears. Hannah told me the lady was literally shaking, and it was the first time she made eye contact with her. What she said to her was that Hannah was the only friend she had, and she informed her that the next day she was going to be admitted into a psychiatric hospital. She thanked Hannah for being her friend that entire year when she had none.
If we are searching to know how to create a better relationship with a spouse, our kids, our parents, anyone, Hannah shows how it is possible. It’s through persistent love in action that we can transform relationships. With persistence and consistency in giving, changes must happen. Hearts will melt. Sometimes people do things that are really unloving, but it really has nothing to do with us directly. The seed Hannah planted in the other’s heart and watered every day sprouted. Creating truly loving relationships, especially when things have gone wrong, doesn’t happen over night. We cannot see the roots growing. But — with consistent, daily, unrelenting acts, especially in the face of being challenged — one day, and often it is sudden, a change happens.
Hannah did not keep giving for any material reason. And that’s key. Transforming any situation means keeping focus on the act of giving. If you prioritize giving for any other outcome, — expectations can be dashed. It’s usually the test of patience that gets to us, when we don’t see the results we hope for, and then we stop giving or we withhold love. But if our intention is simply to give—and to give love—our efforts will produce fruit, somewhere and somehow.
What I completely did not see until our dinner was over and we were about to say our good-byes was that Hannah was grieving. She had lost her daughter in a car accident three weeks back. I asked her why she didn’t say anything; we talked about so many things. She explained, “When my mother died I said to myself, ‘nothing worse in the world could ever happen to me.’ Now I know never to say that but to be grateful for all God’s trials.” I recognized Hannah’s parents’ story from some of my research. Hannah’s mother was killed when Hannah was eleven years old in an assassination attempt on both her mother and father.
One of the reasons I seek to find people like Hannah is to understand how we can overcome challenges, prosper, thrive and create change in this world. We can go past pains, burdens, and win at life. Hannah appeared that evening to offer her example without seeking to. It isn’t easy, but making up our mind to rise above it all is how we win at making this world a more beautiful place. She doesn’t dwell on her losses, her pains, or live according to any definition of how she should behave. She is a remarkable soul, but so are we. We all have it within us to find gratitude and forgiveness, the strength to decide to prosper and thrive, and in so doing lift up the people we meet.
Originally published at medium.com