This summer my family moved to a new state. Over the past couple months, I’ve repeatedly heard my younger daughter say, “I still don’t feel like this is home. It feels like we’re on a trip, and we need to get back.”
Sometimes she says it through tears. Other times she says it just matter-of-factly. And sometimes she even laughs about it. This fluctuation of emotions pretty much sums up the ups and downs that go along with moving.
But I must admit something. My daughter’s recurring comment, whether said through laughter or tears, has worried me. You see, this particular child is my Firefly with glasses that sit on the tip of her nose. She has prominent freckles and unruly hair that refuses to behave in a smooth and orderly fashion. This child is a Noticer with a keen awareness of other people’s struggles and fears, especially her own. On more than one occasion she’s maturely expressed that she is “different” from the rest. This child is a friend to all but not really attached to one. She marches to her own beat, makes up her own lyrics, sings like no one is listening. What happens to someone like this when thrown into a new environment with people who know nothing of her inner gifts? Back in our former community, she was loved and celebrated “as is”. We are now in a much bigger city where life is fast and unfamiliar. Would her light brighten or dim here? I’ve wondered many times.
Well, I was just at the height of my worry when something happened. I guess you could call it a game changer. In this case, I’m calling it a story changer. I share this experience as a means of grasping what matters in a fast-paced, overly distracted, pressure-cooker world. Whether we are lost or we are found, just a few moments with open hands and attentive eyes can turn things around.
This is our story …
It was Meet-the-Teacher day at my children’s new school. Coming from a school where every person we passed in the hall was either a friend from our neighborhood or church, the difference was quite noticeable. Walking amongst 900 people and not knowing a single one was intimidating even for me. My daughters and I purchased their school spirit t-shirts, put money in the lunch accounts, and then visited both classrooms. We had just left the second grade classroom where we’d met my younger daughter’s teacher. By the look on my child’s face, the meeting had gone well. She was smiling that squinty-eye smile where the corners of her mouth merge with the corners of her eyes. This full-on expression of joy was kind of stuck on her face. I reveled in my daughter’s smile as we made our way through the crowded halls.
So there we were, descending the steps along with 900 other families that had come to meet their teacher. About halfway down, there was a woman coming right for us. No matter how many people were in her way, she was determined to get to us. It was as if she knew us. It was as if she must reach us.
Finally this tall, slender woman with a welcoming smile stood directly in front of us. My children and I came to a halt. That’s when this lovely woman leaned down and gently cupped my younger daughter's face in her hands. In a deep, warm voice that held a hint of southern charm she said, “You are so cute. You are so, so cute. I just can’t stand it! Who are you?” she asked excitedly.
My child’s eyes shifted over to me without removing her face from the woman’s hands. She began giggling like this was the funniest and most wonderful thing that could possibly happen. “I’m Avery,” she responded between giggles.
“Well, you are beautiful, Avery. I just love your freckles. I am so glad you are here. I am the P.E. teacher.”
How this woman knew to pick Avery out of the crowd, I will never know. How she knew to take both my daughters under her wing and introduce them to the principal and associate principal, I will never know. As I fought back tears of relief and gratitude, I did know one thing: what was happening in that moment was incredibly significant. I just didn’t yet know how significant.
Avery went home and reenacted the whole scene for her visiting grandparents. When her daddy came home, she acted it out again, never leaving out the face—the face in the hands was the most important part. Avery called one of her friends back home. “You will never guess what happened to me today,” she said clutching the phone with a wide smile.
You know when someone has a story? Like the day she met her spouse? Or the day he found a winning lottery ticket in a puddle next to his car? Or the day she quit her dead-end job and headed to Nashville to follow her dreams?
As I heard Avery telling everyone she possibly could about the hallway experience, I thought: This is her story. In one moment, her homesickness eased and her new life looked brighter. I could envision her telling this story for years to come, maybe even to her future spouse or her own daughter when she is scared and uncertain.
Don’t we all want our face to be held in someone’s hands?
Don’t we all want to be told how beautiful we are?
Don’t we all want to know we matter, that we are not invisible?
Don’t we all want a story to tell—that moment when our life started looking a little brighter?
Those questions swirled around in my head for days, though I wasn’t quite sure why. When I found myself in despair at a local emergency vet, I thought of those questions again. Banjo, our very special cat, had gotten outside and had an allergic reaction to something in the woods behind our home. As I sat wringing my hands in the waiting room, a family walked in with their feeble dog. He was so old that his fur had actually grayed. He had saggy, red-rimmed eyes and a large lump protruded from his hip. The dog was lovingly worn down to the threads just like a childhood teddy bear.
I heard bits of the owner’s conversation with the receptionist. “Old … suffering … time to say goodbye.” The mother cried holding her small child against her hip. The father couldn’t even speak. He just patted the dog’s head in a calm, rhythmic motion. As I watched a family in turmoil, tears silently dripped down my cheeks.
The receptionist told them that euthanasia specialist would be with them shortly and to take a seat. The dog did not budge so the father picked him up gently. They sat down at the end of the bench near me. After sitting in silence for a few minutes, I trusted my voice. The father had walked away for a moment; the woman and her small child sat alone.
“I’m sorry,” I said quietly.
The woman’s sad eyes perked up. I saw a long, slow breath release from her chest. She smiled weakly.
“I can see that is a very special dog,” I added.
The woman turned slightly toward me and proceeded to tell me how they rescued him when he was a pup. For the first few weeks, he could only sleep if his head was pressed against hers. Because he had a bad case of fleas, she was paranoid there was a flea in her ear for the longest time. She laughed out loud. It was so nice to hear her laugh. She told me how he protected them. He was a good dog—the best kind of dog. Thank you for asking, she had said, her voice cracking just once.
I couldn’t change her story, but I could make the story a little better by letting her know I could see her pain—that she was not invisible. I vowed to keep remembering to look for small ways to impact someone’s story in a positive way the way the P.E. teacher did for my child.
Avery continues to have her up days and her down days. Her big sister made her a schedule to post in her room that highlights her P.E. days. Avery pops right up on those days. “I get to see the nice lady with the big smile today. You know, the lady who held my face,” she adds like I need to be reminded. I won’t ever need to be reminded, but that’s a story I will never tire of hearing.
I have no doubt the hallway experience altered the way Avery felt about this new territory—about her new life. To some that may seem like an exaggeration, but I am certain that it’s not. In fact, for the skeptics, I suggest this:
Take someone’s face in your hands. Look them straight in the eye. Say, “You are beautiful. Tell me about you.” Then stop and listen.
Talk about empowering. Talk about goose-bump inducing. Talk about uplifting, life-changing, and hope-building. Talk about grasping what really matters in a world of distraction, pressure, rush, and despair.
It doesn’t take much to change someone’s story. In fact, I’ve discovered six seconds will do. I wrote the following poem while waiting for Banjo to emerge from the vet. I thought of many six-second actions that can turn the day around and possibly change someone’s story. When I posted the poem to The Hands Free Revolution page, it was deemed “The 6 Second Challenge” and shared by nearly 25,000 people. “I’m in for The Six Second Challenge! How about you?” people wrote again and again. I was fueled with such hope, and I wanted to share this hope with you.
So in honor of those who are lost … those who are hurting … those who are looking for one small sign that they are not invisible, I offer this challenge. Today let’s see what we can do with 6 seconds to change someone’s story or at least make it a little brighter.
The 6 Second Challenge
In 6 seconds you can kiss someone like you mean it.
In 6 seconds you can hold open a door.
In 6 seconds you can wait for a little straggler to catch up. “I’ll wait for you,” you can even say.
In 6 seconds you can take a deep breath.
In 6 seconds you can let it go. “It’s not worth it,” you can say.
In 6 seconds you can tuck a note in a lunch box or in a pocket. It takes 2 seconds to make a heart.
In 6 seconds you can say you’re sorry.
In 6 seconds you can cut yourself some slack.
In 6 seconds you can throw away that picture, that pair of pants, that inner bully that keeps you from loving this day, this you.
In 6 seconds you can feel the sunshine.
In 6 seconds you decide it’s time to stop looking back.
In 6 seconds you can whisper, “It’s gonna be okay,” to yourself or someone who’s scared.
I used to sound like a broken record. “I don’t have time,” I would always say. But then I realized what could happen in a mere 6 seconds.
It’s enough to make a bad day good …
It’s enough to bring life back to your weary bones …
It’s enough to change someone’s story …
It’s enough to remember what really matters in the midst of so much that doesn’t.
© Rachel Macy Stafford 2014
If this story brought you hope or inspiration, please know you can find it (and many more uplifting experiences like it) in my second book, HANDS FREE LIFE: 9 Habits for Overcoming Distraction, Living Better, & Loving More. Friends, have you ever changed someone’s story in a positive way? Please share. Every week when The Hands Free Revolution community members share their struggles and triumphs someone out there feels less alone. I feel so uplifted each week as I read your thoughts and encouragements.
Thank you for the overwhelming response to The Presence Pledge on last week’s post. It is now available in two styles in the Hands Free Shop along with the other inspiring Hands Free prints, bracelets and vintage t-shirts! I appreciate your unending support!