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Column: The gift of interaction

When I wake in the morning, I thank God for the day, and I pray for all persons sent to me on this day. I try to treat each person with dignity and respect. This is not something that our current culture honors and extols. If I click on the television, it is some person who has overcome being normal to become an influencer (I still don’t understand what this means) or started a business despite their disadvantage, or my favorite, has written a book. Everyone who is anyone has already or is in the process of writing a book. Everyone is a celebrity.

I grow weary of the hype, not to be dismissive of true effort and talent, that is always refreshing. It is the constant bombardment of the concept that this celebrity pathway is the only way we can prove that we are worthy of being human. People are knee-deep in propaganda today, that to be somebody is to achieve some monumental tasks.

People come and go in and out of our day. Do we see these people as gifts or as potential disrupters? Do we find these people insignificant and not worthy of our attention? Sometimes it is the most insignificant people that are the most real and kind. I was checking out of Walmart, yes, I was in the line that was being checked out by a real human, not a machine. As a tall young man wearing a blue vest was checking, we conversed for a few moments. He was a student but working his way through his engineering degree. He was helpful and came around to help me put my groceries in my cart. Suddenly a package fell on my bread, still in the cart. A smallish woman behind me came to my aid, she extracted the bread saying, “I hate that, this has happened to me and when I get home my bread is squished.” We smiled and for a moment we were present to each other. She had a kind face and twinkling eyes; I was taken by her comment and her kindness. My transaction was complete as I was ready to wheel my cart toward the exit. The small woman had a presence, and the young cashier and I were richer for our small encounter. My only regret was I wished to have known both better. We do not realize how we enter other people’s lives and how others enter ours. This human transaction is so humble, yet so important to our human health.

I recall years ago a very special person in my life, who interestingly I cherish more now than I did then. I was a young new teacher. I taught at a private school around Boston, Massachusetts. The kitchen was run by a small little nun called Sister Helen Constance. Sister had served in the very highest positions of the orders management; she had been a principal in several schools. Now in her old age, she was serving in the kitchen. Washing dishes, preparing meals, cleaning floors, all normal activities. Now and then, I would end up with duties connected to school functions and serving in the kitchen. I did not know then what I know now about her. She never let on that she was in the top ranks of the order. She also never complained about her duties but perhaps the most endearing quality that I cherish now is that she never gossiped about others or made snide remarks about others working with her. She went about her humble duties with precision and focus regardless if others helped or not.

When we are young, we don’t realize what treasures there are around us, we take them for granted. Some years later, as I found myself working with others, she would come to mind, the humble character of service that she was. Now as I am married and years older, as I finish the dishes after dinner and wonder why no one helps, making me loudly complain, I think of her. How did she manage in her old age? What a blessing it was to have known her. She was like a prayer the kind one repeats over and over for strength and kindness.

People come into our lives, every day, or even for a moment, they are all gifts to us. Do you realize that you are a gift to others? So much today is communication on one device or another, but the one-to-one human interaction is important to our mental, social and spiritual life. We are made to communicate ourselves to others and them to us. We are all connected in this life by our humanity. Don’t bypass the small events or people in our lives, they are blessings. We are meant to exchange our presence with others. It is part of a living journey.

The bus driver, the kid next store, the mailman, the checkout clerk, the old man across the street, the person behind you waiting to check out – greet them with a booming “Good Morning” knowing God has put them in your path.

Kathleen Carlton Johnson, Ph.D., is a hospice chaplain.

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