"The real voyage of discovery consists not inseeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes."--Marcel Proust
It was something that I started a number of years ago. I can't remember exactly what the simpleincident was (something like someone picking up something I dropped), but in that moment I recognized, truly recognized, that someone did something for me...just because they were being kind. I said "thank you", but somehow that moment made a larger impact on me than whatmy words were able to express.
It wasn't long after that Iwas playing around with my "brand new" computer and printer (you know, DOS or early Windows and thedot matrix kind)to makesome business cards. I thought about that day and made some cards that read something like:
"Iknow it may seem like a small thing that you did for me today and that those things may often go unnoticed or unacknowledged. I just wanted to let you know that you made a difference in myday today. Please watch for someonewho makes a difference in your day and pass this on."
I printed a couple of pages of these andkept them with me. The first reaction Ihad surprised me. I had wanted to let the person know theymade a difference in my day and his reactiontold me that I had made an unexpecteddifference in his byacknowledging his kindness (if I remember right, he openeda door for me). I got a similar response from the next person, and then the next, and the next. A couple of people looked more confused, butby then I smiled anyway, knowing that it may have at least caused them to consider the moment a little more.Knowing that they had made a small difference in my day and that Imight havemade asmall difference in their day somehowgave me an indescribablefeeling inside. I started looking for these small acts of kindness even more and became even more aware of them.
Over time, Ibegannoticing that I got that same feeling inside even if I didn't wait for the person's response. I also started noticingthose little moments when someone did something for someone else and I eventually changed the cards to say, "it may seem like a small thing you did for someone today.....I just wanted to let you know that it made a difference in myday today..." Seeing those expressions of kindness toward someone else as well as the reaction (or my perception of their reaction if I didn't wait to see it) of the person receiving the card brought that same feeling inside. It no longer had toinvolve meexcept as an observer. It was about those little momentsof kindness toward another human being that we often overlook - those moments that let us know that we are not alone and that we do affect each other in some way.
I didhave a few cards that said, "you made a difference in my life" and passed out a few of these as well, butit was my awareness of the little moments that made the largest impact for me. The earth didn't shake, but I did experience it in a different way. Sometimes I even noticeda sense of gratitude in theunexpected moments. The person who cut in front of someone in line reminded meto consider a sense of fairness.The frustrated parent in the store reminded me of the importance of patience. My own impatience and frustration reminded me of the importance of understanding and accepting our humanness as well as forgiving ourselves and others (that's been a really tough one to see at times). The eyes of the homeless person reminded me of the importance of compassion and a sense of dignity. My clients remind me of the courage it takes to be vulnerable in front of another human being, tostep away from what is known into the unknown, to change,andto ask for help ornew perspectives.
There were many moments that I missed and continued to see in the old way, but I increasingly saw the world in a different way. Years later, I stilloften forget that each moment provides me with the opportunity to learn something - about the world, others, myself, my beliefsor values, orthe importance of feeling connected to it all. Those moments don't always come in my "preferred" mode, but the lessons are there to help me understand something ifonly I am willing tolearn. Perhaps each moment and each person makes a difference in our lives in some way. Perhaps the universeis trying to help and the question is more about how wedecide to live in it and look at it from moment to moment...
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Pam Oltman is a psychotherapist who works in a private practice setting that specializes in the trauma-related disorders in Lincoln Nebraska. Prior to this, she worked in both inpatient and outpatient programs within a dual-diagnosis treatment (more...)
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