Today I had lunch with Peggy Nolan, a woman who I can already tell is going to be an incredibly dynamic presence in my life. We connected because both her husband and her son-in-law are deployed National Guardsmen. She runs workshops for stepmothers and a whole host of other really cool stuff. (If you’re interested, she’s @toolboxgirl on Twitter.)
After discussing business for a while, the conversation naturally turned to love (doesn’t it always between two girls?)
It got me thinking about past relationships while I was driving home.
My most recent relationship (let’s call him Keith) was a mixed bag – he was very loving to me, but our life philosophies were so different that it’s breathtaking. He looked for the darkness in people (quite literally). I looked for the light. For that reason alone, it’s a wonder we lasted two years together.
For many years I’ve made a practice of paying tolls for the car behind me. It’s not a big thing – with today’s gas prices, it’s barely a third of a gallon of gas. But it makes me feel good; hopefully it brings a smile to the recipient; and it brings a lot of pleasure to the toll-takers (they almost always thank me and say how wonderful it is.)
Keith had a major issue with all of this. He would say to me, “How do you know that the person you’re paying for deserves it?”
That question always stumped me – why would you assume that a stranger doesn’t deserve it? Who can be a judge to whether another person is deserving or not? And why would I curtail my own enjoyment in order to possibly avoid giving a gift to someone who might not appreciate it? Should their lack of appreciation affect my joy in giving? Not in the least. In fact, it’s my favorite kind of giving – the kind where there is no expectation (or possibility) of reciprocation.
More than once I’ve had cars chase me down the highway to wave and smile and mouth “thank you.” Just as often, I have no contact with the recipient at all.
So who isn’t deserving? Is it the business man who won’t notice the extra dollar, but will have a smile in the middle of a long day of meetings? Is it the mother who is scrounging for change while her baby screams in the backseat, and can have a moment of adult connection with the toll taker? Is it the kid who has turned to alcohol or drugs because he believes that no one in his world sees him or cares?
Are you willing to tell any of these people that they don’t matter enough for a small human kindness? Are you willing to tell them that someone else is more deserving of a moment of compassion, of a smile, of human connection?
I’m not willing to do that. Call me a “bleeding heart liberal” if you must. If I can bring one joyful moment to another person in their day, that’s worth a whole lot more than a dollar to me. And it’s selfish too – it brings a moment of joy into my world to do it.
Each time I pay a toll for someone, I love to imagine the phone conversation they’re going to have tonight with their husband or wife. “Guess what happened to me today?”
Who doesn’t deserve to have that conversation?
And I deserve to be with someone who enjoys and celebrates that part of me. We all do.