I walked up to a man in the grocery store today that I’ve been trying to approach for years. I live in the town where I went to college, returning here as an adult, and this is a man I recognize from my past. When I was 20, I used to see him walking around town. At the time, he was an “older” man to me, though he was younger than I am now.
I’ve seen him around town for the past 15 years, walking up the main street or in the grocery store. I knew I knew him instantly, but it took me a long time to remember from where. He looked exactly as he did in 1980, so much so that for a while I thought maybe I was seeing a ghost.
When I saw him today, my impulse was to shy away as I have at least a dozen times before in this very store. But I felt oddly brave today, so I walked up to him, said excuse me (twice, because the first time he just moved against the bread shelf so I could pass) and told him what I just told you: that I’ve seen him for years and he looks exactly the same as he did 35 years ago.
You would have thought I just handed him a winning lottery ticket. He said that I’d made his day and then told me it again, three more times. “I’m 76,” he said, a piece of information he shared, I’m sure, to impress upon me how giddy I’d just made him. (He seriously looked giddy.) After our short encounter, he came to find me in the dry goods aisle to let me know just once more how touched he was that I made the effort to share with him.
I had avoided talking him for years because I worried: that it would be awkward, that he’d be mean, that he’d think I was insane, that I’d sound stupid. An exchange that took two minutes (and a modicum of chutzpah) totally changed this guy’s day.
And here’s the thing: it changed my day too. I’d been having not just a bad day but a bad stretch of days – inexplicably weepy and constantly ready to pick a fight. Poof – all that disappeared. In fact, I felt so high from this encounter I did something nice for someone else in the store – a surprise, and anonymously – and that moved me into a state of euphoria that I didn’t think possible without chocolate on my tongue.
Then I came home and told my 15-year-old son and his friend what had just happened. “It’s the antidote to angst,” I told them, thinking maybe 15-year-olds might some days have a need for such an Rx. “Just make someone feel awesome,” I explained. “If it doesn’t work immediately, go make someone else feel awesome. It won’t take long before you yourself feel great.” They looked at me skeptically, but I could tell they knew it was true. They just needed to be reminded.
As we all do. (You’re welcome.)