There are two ways of spreading light:
be the candle or the mirror that reflects it.” ~Edith Wharton
Recently, I was in a banking hall at abule egba (lagos) and the crowd was buzzing as usual on the last Friday of the month.
I was in the bulk room trying to deposit some money but this queue was so long I couldn’t even estimate the time I’ll complete my transaction.
Just behind me was a woman who I suddenly noticed was constantly hissing. It became so frequent that I began to feel uncomfortable.
“I couldn’t help but overhear,” I said. “Please switch places with me. Every little bit helps.” She gratefully accepted my offer. We both understood that my act saved her perhaps fifteen or twenty seconds of time. Hardly enough time to make a meaningful difference.
At the pace the line was moving I figured it would be another 35 minutes at least before we would get to the teller.
But that which is most meaningful may not always be what you think.
Instantly, as if by magic, her demeanor changed from being tense and downcast to cheery and hopeful. She exhaled another sigh, but this time it was a sigh of relief.
“Isn’t this crazy!” she said, grinning ear to ear. “Next time I will plan better. Have you ever seen so many people?”
She stood next to me, not in front of me or behind me, but side-by-side.
We spent the next several minutes chatting happily about ordinary things — where we were headed, how wearisome coming to banking halls can be, how a bottle of coke would taste so good right about now. But her smile never left her. And I was smiling, too. As much as I helped her to feel uplifted, I was now uplifted. My thoughts of having to spend about an hour of my time in the bank vanished.
I grew deaf to the noises and chatter all about me. I didn’t see anyone else. It was just the two of us cracking jokes and making small talk. Side-by-side.
Suddenly it was our turn. She thanked me one last time completed her transaction and we parted ways. Within a minute I lost sight of her.
What just happened? I asked myself. And then I realized something important. What this woman wanted was reassurance she would make her appointment on time. But what she needed was to know that somebody cared.
And isn’t that what we all need most of the time? When we feel worried or hurt or simply frustrated by life’s burdens; when the “givens” of life (sickness, loss, disappointment, heartbreak) overwhelm us; when we struggle to make our way through another day; a warm embrace, thoughtful gesture, or a hand on our shoulder can be all we need to feel a little more hopeful and, perhaps, a lot more cared about.
I don’t know if that woman caught up with her appointment. When you help others along the road you may never know the outcome of their journey. But it may not have been your purpose to know. Your purpose may have been to simply meet them on the path and in some way be a source of light so they can see things from a clearer perspective—and in so doing discovering that they may have been a source of light for you.
As for me, I no longer see long lines as a waste of time but as opportunities to make a difference, however small, in someone’s life.
Never underestimate your power to make a difference in the life of others by even a small act of kindness or a few comforting words. Opportunities abound every day. Seek them out. And we all know this to be true: it is in the giving that we receive.