Thursday, September 1, 2011

She Remembered My Name

The other night in class my professor was talking about how much it means to kids when their teachers and school administrators know there names. (I am working on an MA in educational administration.) Its such a small thing and for many teachers it doesn't take that much effort, but to the kid it means everything. But what it got me thinking about had nothing to do with work. It took me back to some small, but incredibly meaningful, gestures that people have made towards me over the years.

In the first few weeks of college, I participated in sorority rush. At one of the parties I met and spoke with a young woman for what might have been 15 minutes. She was sophisticated, witty, interesting and had a smile that drew you in. In other words, everything my 18 year old self thought I wasn't. I didn't think too much of it as I went through the day and met a ton of other people. Walking on campus that night, my friends and I passed a group of three or four girls and one them said "Hi Debi!" with genuine enthusiasm in her voice. At that moment, Schoene (that is her name) transformed me from an insecure girl to the the coolest freshman on campus, even if only in my own mind. She thought enough of me to remember my name.  How many times do I meet someone and have so much on my mind that I hear their name but don't catch it? Don't even try to remember it because I am too distracted. Living in the moment has never been my strong point.

A few years later, I was involved in car accident in a town away from my home. The morning after the accident, I woke up in a hospital room to find Holly and Lynnette walking through the door. They were my best friends in high school and we were still in fairly close contact considering years had passed and we were separated by four or so hours. It wasn't convenient for them to come. They had classes and busy lives, but there they were, like it was the most natural thing in the world to spend an afternoon in a hospital in Peoria. Would I do the same for them? I believe I would, but there are other people who I haven't reached out to when I could have. Have I missed opportunities to surprise others with acts of kindness? Undoubtably.

Fast forward nearly ten years. One of my closest friends, Adrienne, was very ill and hospitalized. The prognosis was not good. The hospital she was in was about 40 minutes and two train from work and a good hour and two more trains from home. It was important for me to go see her every day, but not the easiest thing to accomplish while still showing up for my job. So I would go into work and try to be there by 7 am, in hopes I could leave early. I didn't need to worry. The creative director, Michael, would walk into my office when he got to work and tell me what had to be done that day. I was preoccupied and prioritizing tasks wasn't high on my priority list. Michael was thinking for the both of us. I am so appreciative of what he did to give me extra time with my friend.

For a long time after Adrienne died, one of my coworkers Rachel would walk into my office to ask if I wanted to go to lunch. We must have eaten hundreds of lunches together and became close friends. It took me a while to figure it out, but I realized that Rachel knew Adrienne and I always had lunch together and she took it upon herself to feel that void so it would feel a little less empty and that it did. I often don't know what to say or do when someone is grieving or going through a bad time, so I usually don't do anything other than attend a wake or send a card.

And finally there is Amanda, who has made an art of nurturing her friendships. It can be a random email about a book she is reading and thinks I might like, or an unexpected package in the mail because she found a cute dress she thought my daughter would look great in. She sends news clippings that make her think of you; she never forgets a birthday or aholiday. As I was reading Gretchen Rubin's The Happiness Project, the chapter on maintaining friendships could have been written by Amanda.

There are so many other people I could name, including my great family, who have gone out of their way to show me I was important, to give me what I needed at the time, and to strengthen our friendship. So what does this have to do with the healthiest year of my life?

I want to be the person who lives in the moment; who shows up for someone when they least expect it but need it most; who puts others before myself because their current need is greater; and, who demonstrates how valuable her friendships are by nurturing them. I often feel that I have gotten so caught up trying to make my life what I think it should be rather than living it as it is. I think I used to be more positive and more generous with my time. I want to get back to that place. I want to stop worrying that what I do is going to be wrong and just do it, while accepting that sometimes it might be the wrong gesture, but it came from the right place. I think this is a change that will go a long way towards my emotional health.