The man and his boys were dressed very sharply, but the little boys were not behaving well on the crowded subway. The father wasn’t paying attention to his children much at all, while they were running back and forth, bothering other people. Finally, a well-meaning Christian man spoke up and said something like, “Sir, could you please get your children under control?” The father snapped out of his obliviousness, and asked his boys to calm down and sit next to him on the other side. He then explained, “I’m sorry. We just buried their mother, and none of us are handling it very well.”
A friend of mine went home from work the night before Thanksgiving days ago. She saw her husband already lying in bed, so she got busy, preparing for the next day’s festivities. When she finally did go to bed, she noticed her husband hadn’t moved or responded to anything, so she checked on him to see if he was OK. That’s when she realized he had likely been dead for hours. Thanksgiving for her this year was an unexpected nightmare and will never be the same again — neither will any future Christmas.
Friday morning, I found myself praying for her and her family more, and then a few minutes later was on my phone, scrolling. A memory popped up of a trip I had taken back to my hometown in the deep South only a few years ago. That memory contained a thread of my two best friends from high school, reminiscing of the good old days. They essentially took over my post in a fun, nostalgic conversation between the two of them.
Some of that thread I hadn’t read at all because the conversation had gotten so lengthy. In it those two old friends spoke of my impact on their lives. That’s when my tears began to well up.
Sure, my friend who had lost her husband the night before Thanksgiving already had me on the emotional edge, but reading these comments pushed me over it. Why?
Only a short time after that thread of comments occurred, one of those high school best friends passed away, unexpectedly. He seemed so young and full of energy. It surprised everyone.
Then, just last year between Thanksgiving and Christmas, the other best friend also passed away, unexpectedly. In both situations, their families were left devastated. None of their holidays would ever be the same again.
I love this time of the year for many reasons. For one, it seems to bring out the best in a lot of people. It is refreshing to see selfless generosity happening all around us. Another reason is the holiday season is a time I know people are creating great memories that will last for years. It seems like a happy time of the year for many people.
The flip side of that is that there are also people who struggle with the holidays. That includes people who have lost loved ones this time of the year or who simply wrestle with the fact their loved ones who used to celebrate with them are no longer around. It’s troubling to have key people missing in our lives in a time when everyone else is happy and celebrative.
Another memory popped up of my last year’s pre-Christmas trip to Europe. It’s a tradition our family began years ago where we periodically travel to Europe for a pre-Christmas boost to get us pumped for the holiday season. If you have never tried it, I highly recommend it. It’s remarkable, and it works!
One of the first photos that popped up was of us on a crowded subway train in Europe. The people there are much like Americans. They might be squeezed together, but they’re nearly all glued to their cell phones, oblivious to what’s going on around them.
It reminded me of the father and his wild-acting boys, who were struggling with the death of the mother. We often judge others without knowing what’s going on in their lives. We’re unaware of what they’re going through because we’re not paying attention or not asking.
Once we find out why people are having such hard times, we usually become more understanding. The problem is too many of us are zoned out, ourselves. Too often we’re so busy, we miss the fact that people around us are hurting. Sometimes, we’re too busy with things that don’t matter as much in the grand scheme of things.
The next time you find yourself in crowded spaces, consider not pulling out your cell phone, tablet or laptop and gluing your attention to the screen. Instead, look around and observe. Get to know people and learn how you can positively impact others by engaging, rather than disengaging, with the people around you. Others who are hurting need you, but you must pay attention to know it.
Someday you may learn of the impact you’ve had on others’ lives — good or bad. Like me, you may learn of it after those people have already gone on into eternity. Learn from my experience and make sure your impact is positive, lest you find out too late it wasn’t. Fortunately, for me, what my friends said encouraged me. In my humble opinion, it could have easily gone the other way.
I’m grateful it didn’t, and I am determined to ensure my impacts on people, today, are purposefully, strategically and effectively good. I hope to do better at paying attention to what is going on in the lives of others around me, so maybe I can help take the edge off some of the harsh things happening in their lives.
“Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” – Galatians 6:2