“How are you doing?” It’s a simple question, really. But how often do I really listen, or percieve the flicker in someone’s voice or eyes, in the answer? How often am I really asking to get a real response?
I caught a movie the other day that made me think. I really wasn’t expecting much; it was on a long flight back from the UK and honestly I was bored and just picked one of the titles that didn’t seem like it was going to make me tear my eyes out. So my expectations weren’t high.
“Liberal Arts” was mainly about a 35 year old guy’s rediscovery of himself through going back to his college alma mater and realizing that he had mentally never left his college years- he still wished he was back there, reading books, talking to people, drinking coffee. Most of the storyline was about him meeting a girl there (by accident) and what he found out about himself as a result. It was a thoughtful story, but not the one that struck me the most.
During his visits back to the campus, he happened to meet a kid who was reading a book he really loved, and struck up a conversation with him. Over the course of the movie, he probably talked to the guy a total of 7 minutes over 3 different occasions – just randomly running into him on campus. In their second conversation, he discovered that the kid was severely depressed, and he simply asked him how he was doing. The kid opened up, they talked about life during and after college. But he mainly just asked questions and listened. At their last meeting, he jotted down his phone number inside the kid’s book and told him to call him if he ever wanted to talk.
A few months passed, and the kid ended up calling him, scared, after taking a lot of pills. This random 35 year old guy who lived in New York that he had talked to a total of 3 times for 7 minutes was the only person he felt like he could call. He ended up saving his life.
It made me think about the ways in which we are connected. We don’t always know the full extent of the connections we make in life. Seemingly basic connections with people may be more important than we think.
Another story that struck me recently was about the new Chinese leader Xi Jinping. All political commentary and opinions aside, something he said about the small town of Muscatine, Iowa that he visited as a young government official made me think. “My impression of America came from you. For me, you are America.” So yeah, that foreign exchange student you befriended in high school English class? Well, they may be tomorrow’s world leader, and they may be forming their opinion of an entire country based on you.
Every “real” human connection we make has the ability to change the course of someone’s life, if not the world. The greatest thing about connecting with someone is that it’s really easy – you just have to be “real.” As it turns out, just being yourself with someone can end up making a greater impact than anything you try to say that is profound, eloquent or wise.
This Thanksgiving, I am deeply thankful for meaningful connections with the people in my life – for those that I’ve known for years, or only a few minutes. I’m thankful for those beautiful moments where we push past facades to see and appreciate each other for who we really are. I’m thankful for all of the real conversations about the “real” things in life. I’m thankful that we were all thrown together onto this earth to push, jostle, challenge and connect with each other – whether we agree or disagree. These are the moments in life that truly mean something, and for those I am truly thankful. Here’s to many, many more of those moments in the next year.