I just walked out of the doctor’s office. Despite a few niceties from the administrative staff, the conversation was bare and canned. They didn’t even know my name, and why would they.
As a kid, whenever I went to the doctor with my dad, the staff literally cackled at his jokes and came out from behind the counter to hug him. They came to life when he was around, and when he wasn’t the staff would ask about him with some little comment, “I just love your dad.”
As a kid, I wondered, “Is he famous?” He had this impact on people everywhere we went. He didn’t participate in politics, and he wasn’t a major community leader in the non-profit world. He taught Sunday School. He was an FBI agent, and I guess I thought as a child that meant that everyone knew it–like he was an official or a politician.
Once we were in an elevator when a fella hollered, “hold the door.” Several of us were standing there in light-hearted conversation, but we held the door as the man maneuvered himself toward us. His gate accented by the familiar metallic thud of his crutches hitting the ground. The one-legged man joined us. His pant leg, now empty, was neatly pinned up, and his novice control of the crutches indicated that this was whole experience was new to him. The man quickly and coldly turned to face the front of the elevator.
As the doors closed, silence fogged the cramped space. “So, what happened to the leg?” my dad queried. The unasked question that everyone was thinking broke the silence like a thunderclap. Without moving his head, the man said, “amputated…diabetes.” My father said, “my brother lost his leg. I’m really sorry.” The man softened and turned to face my dad and they struck up a conversation. Again we held the doors open, this time so they could finish up a conversation. Before the man made his way off the elevator, he beamed a smile and wished us a good day.
After the doors closed, my dad with a tone of mischievous triumph whispered, “my goal was to make him smile.” He cared. Whether it was a clerk at a grocery store or a captured fugitive (yes, there’s a story), he sought to lighten the lives of those he encountered. He lived by the principle that you can say just about anything if you genuinely care about the answer.
I cannot control the hurricanes, the earthquakes, or the threat of nuclear war, but I can control how much I care about those whom I engage. We need a little of that Lewster light today.