Some days can provide an important reminder of the significance of taking time for others.
While waiting in my hotel for a candidate to arrive – stormy weather slowed air traffic into New York’s congested airports – I decided to check my email. After reviewing and processing emails for 15 minutes or so, I ran across a message with an attached story from a former boss who I greatly admire.
Who knows or cares whether this particular story is true. There are some stories where “the uplift” is far more important than the authenticity. For years there have been stories with this theme that have been bouncing around on the Internet. Periodically they emerge in various forms – irritating chain letters, personal testimonies, or even for political gain. Naturally they are treated as if this is the first time the heart-warming facts have been shared.
This story, in this telling, is uplifting, minus the cynicism.
It reminded me of an important point in my life. I have been fortunate to be in a career position where I can help people -- providing support when they have been unexpectedly fired, when they cannot find a job, or to give some coaching advice that might help them find one. The only requirement I have is that when the caller finds a new job, that they take the time to pay it forward, to help someone else. Sure I like the money in the business, but it is the chance to help that makes my job so special. I am sharing this story with you because if you do not get it, now is a good time to start.
“One day, when I was a freshman in high school, I saw a kid from my class was walking home from school.
“His name was Kyle.
“It looked like he was carrying all of his books. I thought to myself, Why would anyone bring home all his books on a Friday? He must really be a nerd.
“I had quite a weekend planned (parties and a football game with my friends tomorrow afternoon), so I shrugged my shoulders and went on.
“As I was walking, I saw a bunch of kids running toward him...They ran at him, knocking all his books out of his arms and tripping him so he landed in the dirt. His glasses went flying, and I saw them land in the grass about ten feet from him...
“He looked up and I saw this terrible sadness in his eyes.
“My heart went out to him. So, I jogged over to him as he crawled around looking for his glasses, and I saw a tear in his eye. As I handed him his glasses, I said, “Those guys are jerks. They really should get lives.”
“He looked at me and said, “Hey thanks!” There was a big smile on his face. It was one of those smiles that showed real gratitude.
“I helped him pick up his books, and asked him where he lived. As it turned out, he lived near me, so I asked him why I had never seen him before. He said he had gone to private school before now.
“I would have never hung out with a private school kid before. We talked all the way home, and I carried some of his books. He turned out to be a pretty cool kid.
“I asked him if he wanted to play a little football with my friends . He said yes.
“We hung out all weekend and the more I got to know Kyle, the more I liked him, and my friends thought the same of him.
“Monday morning came, and there was Kyle with the huge stack of books again. I stopped him and said, Boy, you are gonna really build some serious muscles with this pile of books everyday! He just laughed and handed me half the books.
“Over the next four years, Kyle and I became best friends. When we were seniors we began to think about college. Kyle decided on Georgetown and I was going to Duke. I knew that we would always be friends, that the miles would never be a problem.
“He was going to be a doctor and I was going for business on a football scholarship.
“Kyle was valedictorian of our class. I teased him all the time about being a nerd.
“He had to prepare a speech for graduation. I was so glad it wasn't me having to get up there and speak.
“On graduation day, Kyle looked great. He was one of those guys that really found himself during high school. He filled out and actually looked good in glasses. He had more dates than I had and all the girls loved him. Boy, sometimes I was jealous!
“Today was one of those days.
“I could see that he was nervous about his speech. So, I smacked him on the back and said, 'Hey, big guy, you'll be great!' He looked at me with one of those looks (the really grateful one) and smiled....
“Thanks,” he said.
“As he started his speech, he cleared his throat, and began ... “Graduation is a time to thank those who helped you make it through those tough years. Your parents, your teachers, your siblings, maybe a coach, but mostly your friends.
“I am here to tell all of you that being a friend to someone is the best gift you can give them. I am going to tell you a story.”
“I just looked at my friend with disbelief as he told the story of the first day we met. He had planned to kill himself over the weekend. He talked of how he had cleaned out his locker so his Mom wouldn't have to do it later and was carrying his stuff home. He looked hard at me and gave me a little smile.
“Thankfully, I was saved. My friend saved me from doing the unspeakable.
“I heard the gasp go through the crowd as this handsome, popular boy told us all about his weakest moment. I saw his Mom and dad looking at me and smiling that same grateful smile.
“Not until that moment did I realize the depth of importance of a kind act or the friendship you share. Never underestimate the power of your actions. With one small gesture you can change a person's life.
“For better or for worse.”
© 2011 John Gregory Self