Ten years ago we moved back to NYC from the suburbs. I promised myself that when we returned, I would run in Central Park every day. On our first day back I stepped into the park at West 79th street. That’s when I saw her. She had short brown hair, was of medium build and height, and if I had to guess, I would say she was German, though I couldn’t tell you why. She walked erectly, with the easy stride of someone who knows where they are going. Around her were about eight midsize dogs, ranging in breeds and shapes and colors, but all with the same feeling about them – completely wiped, satisfied, fully exerted and happy. I looked down at them and up at her and thought, that is how I would like to live my life – fully exerted at the end of each day, satisfied and content with nothing left to give. Over the years the thought came back to me over and again, as I made my choices about work, family, volunteering. What would leave me feeling fully exerted and happily drained?
A few years later, I saw her again. Walking tall and proud, the dogs around her tired and happy. I decided to go up to her and share with her the impact she had had on my life. Tell her how I had thought of her and her dogs and used them to make decisions that affected me and my family, as well as my work, and my community. I wanted to tell her all of it or at least some of it, but as she approached I walked right by. She’s working, I reasoned, it’s not a good time. Also, it sounds ridiculous to say something like that out loud! And, who knows, maybe I am shyer than I realize. Whatever the reason, I didn’t say a thing. And haven’t in the handful of times I have seen her since.
We’ve both gotten older, and I imagine the dogs are different, too. But she still has that same feel to her every time I see her, as do the dogs she walks, and I am still inspired by every time.
What I want to say to the dog-walker, but haven’t (yet), is thank you for the profound influence that you have had on my life.
What I want to say to you, but haven’t (yet), is thank you for the impact you have had on me. In our conversation that touched my heart, in your invitation that brought me to tears, in your text that lifted my spirits, in your smile that brightened my day, in the way you spoke to your child, or leaned over towards that homeless person, or commanded the attention of the room, or giggled suddenly while on your phone, or squeezed your friend’s shoulder, thank you. That made my day better, my life better, just by having experienced it.
You don’t know how many people you touch, just by being yourself, walking through the world, doing your thing. The next time you are measuring your worth or polling your potential or predicting your purpose, remember to add in the immeasurable effects that you have on the people around you. Not just the ones who have lovingly and thoughtfully articulated it to you over and over again, but also the scores of people who think of you often and just haven’t had the chance (or the gumption) to tell you (yet).