They touch our lives, perhaps making us think or smile, often without even realizing it.
A few years ago, I worked at a church and since my son was home schooling, he went with me to the church every day. Most mornings, we'd stop at a local convenience store, getting a chocolate drink for him and a cappuccino for me.
We could have purchased larger quantities of drinks for him and kept them in the refrigerator at the church. I could have brewed my own coffee there too. There were other stores we could have frequented, for we passed many stores along the way on our daily commute.
But the clerk at the store we chose to visit refreshed our lives each day, and so we returned again and again.
Perhaps the store clerk had previously worked in a fast food restaurant, where she learned to ask, "Would you like fries with that?" Perhaps she'd been trained in another retail setting, where she learned, well, about multiple selling.
I prefer to think that she had found her own unique way of enjoying life and her job. I'm not even sure that she was aware that her exuberance for life and her job put a smile upon the face of each customer. Customers did, indeed, return again and again for a dose of good cheer as only that special clerk could give.
When a customer brought cookies to the counter, the clerk could have asked, "Would you like some milk with those cookies?"
Instead, she inquired, "Would you like a lottery ticket with those cookies?"
She might have asked me if I wanted a donut with my coffee. But instead, she asked, "Would you like some batteries with that coffee?" Of my son with his chocolate drink, she inquired, "Would you like a newspaper with that drink?"
The clerk never asked if a customer wanted chips with their cola purchase, or headache medicine with their beer. Rather, she'd inquire if the customers wanted car oil, or laundry soap, or toilet paper.
Yes, life is what you make of it. This clerk's method of dealing with what some assume is a boring job, and with the customers she met daily, made the hours in her day more enjoyable. And in doing that, she also refreshed the lives of others and made them laugh.
Sometimes, if my day at the church had been particularly tiring, or if my son's lessons rather difficult, we'd stop at that store before heading home. We'd giggle as we left the store, the clerk's words echoing behind us.
Mom would have loved my 6-year-old granddaughter Emily, because in a lot of ways Mom was Emily – or Emily is Mom, depending on how you look at it.
It isn’t a “look” thing. Mom had black hair and olive skin – Emily is as fair and blonde as they come. It’s more of an attitude thing.
Mom was kind and loving and had a tender heart, but you didn’t want to cross her. If she was not pleased, you knew it. And if she felt you needed a piece of her mind, she would serve it up without garnish. Whereas my father could tell you to go to the hot and fiery nether regions in such a way that you would actually look forward to the trip, Mom would just tell you to go there – directly – and leave it at that.
At her funeral 30 years ago, the most common phrase spoken about her was this: “You always knew where you stood with her.” Most people saw that as a positive thing about her. I know I did.
Emily is similarly direct. She’s not mean-spirited – usually. She just says what’s on her mind. Not too long ago she was sitting on her grandmother’s lap while the two of them engaged in animated conversation. Suddenly Emily broke away from the dialogue to ask: “Grandma, why do you have so many wrinkles on your face?”
Thankfully, Grandma understood that she wasn’t being rude or insensitive.
She was just being Emily.
A couple of weeks ago we were visiting Emily’s family when she came home from school, clearly frustrated with one of her classmates. I didn’t hear the first part of the story, but my ears perked up when I heard her say: “He does it every day!”
“Who does what every day?” I asked, concerned that my granddaughter was somehow being mistreated by a young man who, if it was true, was about to start losing body parts.
“This boy in my class,” Emily said. “Every day at lunch he takes some milk.”
Well, that wasn’t what I was expecting.
“And that’s a bad thing?” I asked.
“No,” Emily said. “But then every day he sits there and talks about how much he hates milk. And I just want to say to him, ‘Dude, don’t take the milk!’”
Her mother, Jen – I’m sure you can see Jen’s picture if you Google “World’s Sweetest Person” – was shocked.
“Emily!” she said. “You didn’t actually say that to the boy, did you?”
“No,” Emily said, taking a fierce bite out of a post-school cookie, “but I’m going to tomorrow!”
While Jen had a little heart-to-heart with Emily, I found myself thinking about how much my granddaughter reminded me of my mom. Only Mom would have said, “Waste not, want not” or something similarly Franklinesque. To be honest, I kind of like Emily’s bold, direct approach, and I think I’ll be using it on myself for the next little while. When I’m inclined to whine about feeling so tired in the morning, I’ll just say to myself: “Dude, don’t stay up so late!” When I have the urge to rationalize the whys and wherefores of letting my belt out another notch: “Dude, don’t order the fries!” And when I roll my eyes and complain about the sorry state of prime time TV: “Dude, put down the remote!”
Life issues to each of us a complete set of traumas, tragedies, aggravations and frustrations with which we have to cope. We don’t choose them, and we can’t control them. They just happen, like it or not. The last thing we need to do to ourselves is to pile on a bunch of self-inflicted angst. So if you’re doing something – anything – that is causing additional distress and frustration in your life, Emily has some advice for you:
It was a warm breezy summer day in July and a perfect day for a walk. My first thought was to go to the meadow, a place where I feel comfortable and secure as if God's hands are around me. The meadow is a place where you can see all of God's handiwork if you take the time and watch closely, looking beyond the obvious.
Upon entering the meadow the first thing that caught my eye was the way the winds blew softly across the sea of yellow goldenrods. It was as though each flower was in sync with the other as they moved in unison to and fro in the gentle summer breeze.
The time passed quickly as I became mesmerized by the swaying motion of this sea of yellow flowers. I could hear the soft, soothing sounds of the bees as they flew from flower to flower. There was a yellow haze over the flowers as pollen filled the air, and its fragrance was sweet and refreshing. I realized that was God's way of helping the bees do their never ending task of pollinating the flowers of the meadow.
As I looked closer I could see the small birds that were clinging to the golden rods. They seemed so peaceful as they rode back and forth on the stems, almost as if God had created this motion just for their enjoyment. What was actually happening was, they were being fed by God's handiwork. The wind was causing the bugs that lit on the flowers to become airborne and as they did the birds would feast upon them. It was as though they knew that all this was being done, just for them.
At the extreme end of the meadow I noticed several raspberry bushes which were blessed with an abundance of ripened fruit. Looking closer, under the bushes, were rabbits, field mice and woodchucks feeding on the ripened berries that were close to the ground. Just behind them were deer eating the berries that were higher on the bush. It was obvious at this point that God was providing food for his creatures.
The day passed all too quickly but that was of no importance to me. The things I had seen were so beautiful and special that time seemed to have stood still. I had been lost in the overwhelming creations of God, and had learned that he provides for all his creatures no matter what their needs. I felt safe and secure in all that was around me, realizing that I too was a creature of God and that He was providing for me.
By Capt. John Rasmussen (Army News Service, May 22, 2002)
EAGLE BASE, Bosnia and Herzegovina -- It was raining "cats and dogs" and I was late for physical training.
Traffic was backed up at Fort Campbell, Ky., and was moving way too slowly. I was probably going to be late and I was growing more and more impatient.
The pace slowed almost to a standstill as I passed Memorial Grove, the site built to honor the soldiers who died in the Gander airplane crash, the worst redeployment accident in the history of the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault).
Because it was close to Memorial Day, a small American flag had been placed in the ground next to each soldier's memorial plaque.
My concern at the time, however, was getting past the bottleneck, getting out of the rain and getting to PT on time.
All of a sudden, infuriatingly, just as the traffic was getting started again, the car in front of me stopped.
A soldier, a private of course, jumped out in the pouring rain and ran over toward the grove.
I couldn't believe it! This knucklehead was holding up everyone for who knows what kind of prank. Horns were honking.
I waited to see the butt-chewing that I wanted him to get for making me late.
He was getting soaked to the skin. His BDUs were plastered to his frame. I watched-as he ran up to one of the memorial plaques, picked up the small American flag that had fallen to the ground in the wind and the rain, and set it upright again.
Then, slowly, he came to attention, saluted, ran back to his car, and drove off.
I'll never forget that incident. That soldier, whose name I will never know, taught me more about duty, honor, and respect than a hundred books or a thousand lectures.
That simple salute -- that single act of honoring his fallen brother and his flag -- encapsulated all the Army values in one gesture for me. It said, "I will never forget. I will keep the faith. I will finish the mission. I am an American soldier."
I thank God for examples like that.
And on this Memorial Day, I will remember all those who paid the ultimate price for my freedom, and one private, soaked to the skin, who honored them.
Have you ever looked, really looked, at a soldier's face? Sometimes it's young, barely an adult, the hopes of youth still painted in its features. Sometimes it's old; older than faith, older than wisdom, older than time. And sometimes...sometimes it's a bit of both all at once.
Sometimes it's gritty and pained, remembering the face of another who has fallen. Sometimes it's laughing, pleased to have a moment of peace. Most of the time it's proud because it knows, oh yes it knows, the world is a different place – a better place because of it.
Next time you look at a soldier's face, see if you can find that glint of pride. Sometimes it’s hidden and you have to search it out. You'll find it in the eyes; always in the eyes. For the eyes are indeed the windows to the soul, even a soldier's soul.
And when you've carefully examined every feature of that soldier's face, stand up straight and tall, and smile your best smile. Thank that soldier, because it does what some cannot or will not. It defends what it believes to be right with its very life.
But more important, it defends a perfect stranger: you. And when you see a flag-covered casket, stand in memoriam of all the soldier's faces you've examined. For when one of them falls, they all fall. And when one of them stands, they all stand.
The smell of rain and there you were sitting on the front porch. Your apron slightly dusted with flour and smeared finger prints of soon to be chocolate cake. I always got to lick the beaters; you always put way too much "ic-n-ing" on the cupcakes which is why I look the way I do today.
The smell of rain and we gathered under the pavilion waiting for the rides to start again. Charcoal smoke and fatty cheeseburgers filled the air as nearby "pitnickers" took advantage of the break in the day.
The smell of rain in your hair as I wrapped the towel around you. "I told you to come in as soon as it started," I said to my son, even knowing he wouldn't. Perhaps hoping he wouldn't. After all, he's just a boy.
The smell of rain and the steam rises off the roof of the building nearby. I am on guard duty in Navy boot camp and this dumpster could very well be attacked by the enemy at any moment. It is mid-day in the hot Florida sun. I love writing to my brother to tell him about the air-conditioned barracks we sleep in. He was in the "real Navy," he reminds me. Up north in the Great Lakes mid-winter...no heat!
The smell of rain, the music plays, I get happy feet and cannot control the urge – no, the "need" – to dance. It is Universal Studios Florida, one of the hottest days on record, and the song is "Singing in the Rain." I did the whole thing in front of strangers and my wife and youngest son. Which might explain the poor relationship I have with him today.
The smell of rain and the roses sigh, memories of perfectly timed rainfall during the funeral of a loved one and tear soaked goodbyes, muddy frolics when we didn't care about getting dirty, just washed the car days, and now I don't have to wash the car late winter days.
The smell of rain drifting through the old wooden screen placed in the window of my childhood bedroom mixes with the crisp smell of fresh bleached white sheets stretched tightly on my bed. I loved the first moment just lying there.
The smell of rain mixed with the fragrance of our love feeds me when I hold you close, sustains me whenever we are not. I need only close my eyes and I see you there, always will, until my eyes no longer open.
And the smell of rain today in the parking lot of the grocery store sent me rushing home to share this with you, my friend. Next time it rains, think of me.
The man was Herbert J. Taylor who surveyed the way the company did its business, which was the sale of aluminum pots and pans. The nature of the industry was fraught with unethical business practices. To bring the business out of bankruptcy Taylor knew that he had to change the way business was conducted. Ultimately he developed a very simple business philosophy that all employees were to follow in all of their business dealings with customers, suppliers and associates. The philosophy changed the business, turned the business around and ultimately brought it out of bankruptcy.
This philosophy is a simple four-step decision making tool. It didn't tell people what to do or how to think, but it did give them a tool to use in all of their business dealings. The tool is now well known to anyone who has ever associated themselves with Rotary International. It is simple: The Four Way Test. The tip is to use this simple decision making tool in your life and see if it doesn't make a difference. As people, we must all stand by our personal honesty and integrity. This is a handy and simple test of what you say, do or think. Give it a try in your life.
The Four Way Test
1. Is it the TRUTH?
2. Is it FAIR to all concerned?
3. Will it build GOODWILL and better friendships?
4. Will it be BENEFICIAL to all concerned?
By the way, this tool made Herbert Taylor a multimillionaire in the 1930s. So it's also a very profitable way of doing business.
Talking behind someone's back is considered rude and mean.
People say nasty things! Gossip, even slander. All kinds of criticism from looks to work habits to personality.
The other day at lunch I was part of a whole group of colleagues, and we were talking behind our boss's back. She's the new principal of our middle school. It's her first year as our boss, though she was "one of us" for some years. Pretty awkward position! And we had quite a lot to say.
We talked about how kind she is to us. She hand writes notes to wish us happy holidays, or to thank us for jobs well done. She checks on us when she knows we're facing difficulties outside of school with our health or with our families. We talked about the good role model she is for the young women in our building. The fair but firm way she treats students and parents.
All this as she is replacing another well-respected boss. His shoes were hard to fill, and we talked about the fine job she's doing.
I thought about that after lunch was finished and we had gone our separate ways. Sometimes we have the good fortune to be part of another kind of "talking behind their backs." All too often, when we talk NICE behind someone's back, they never know about it!
I sent her a quick email to report the conversation. She replied saying how much she appreciated hearing about it, how it made a bright spot in a tough week of testing and a death in her family.
I've done the same after such chats about the wonderful custodian we all adore. We often talk about how lucky we are to have her, but she's here after many of us are gone for the day. She was delighted to hear it when I told her that so many teachers are singing her praises.
When I overheard conversations about the retirement of our superintendent -- an announcement that was met with sadness -- I thought he should know how we felt. So I made sure he did.
I'm guessing a boss must be pleased to hear that his employees are sorry to hear he's leaving and that they respected him and appreciated the job he's done. Cards and emails are great, but maybe it's just extra heartwarming to know that kind words are being said even "behind your back."
I like to do the same for my students. Of course I give them my own compliments, but I love to let them know when other adults have noticed their good behavior and attitudes. I want them to know that we aren't spending our lunch and meeting times complaining about them ALL the time! I want them to know that we often express our pleasure in working with this particular group of kids, and I want them to know why!
I beam when someone notices how my teenage grandchildren are turning into such fine young people. Then it's absolutely necessary to let THEM know it too! I want them to know that people notice them, and that it matters when what they notice is good and praiseworthy.
I've known from the other side how much this can mean. I often lack confidence in my own abilities as a teacher, so it gave me quite a lift when a friend who works with families in the community mentioned that he has heard several times from parents how glad they are to have their kids in my class. It just feels more important somehow to have the words said by people who don't know I'll ever hear them -- when they can be totally honest. Great to hear it. And great to share!
Sure, it's pleasant when we can say nice things about other people. It feels good! And I think it's a special compliment for people to know of the times when others are saying nice things even out of ear shot.
Watch for your next opportunity to be the reporter! Make sure to tell them about the nice things being said behind their backs! Because how will they know unless we tell them?