My grandfather was a larger than life personality, a happy man. He smiled with his whole face. Joy and love would shine right out of his eyes. He talked to everyone he met as if they were his best friends, even complete strangers. I never really thought of myself as being like him. I was always shy and quiet. It took me a long time to trust people.
That changed, when I became really sick and was hospitalized in 2002. I had to consider the possibility of dying. I talked to God. I know that sounds cliché but it wasn’t a humble prayer. I was mad! I could not understand why I had survived and struggled through so much in my life, just to be at the end at 22-years-old. Well, I didn’t get struck by lightning as I expected. I cried myself to sleep that night.
The next morning, I woke up with a feeling of peace and with a realization. I wasn’t thinking about the miracle that I needed from God. I was questioning, who am I? I prayed with the expectation that God was going to see me and hear my prayer. I realized, that I was just one of many people on Earth, who might have prayed for a miracle that night and cried themselves to sleep. It hit me. Yes, like lightning. That God sees them all, every single person on Earth. He hears every prayer.
From that day forward, I have made it my personal goal to be more aware. To really see people for the person that God might see in them. Past their appearance, beauty, age, title, success or failures, and all of the things that define our value to one another. I try to look into the faces of strangers that I pass by in my day. Maybe, I will say hi or start a conversation or simply smile.
I’ve been overwhelmed the last few days wondering, why are people that I know dying? Four in just the last 14 months; from accidents to sudden onset cancer, and two from tragic suicides. Then, I remembered, I talk to strangers. Only one person that passed away recently was a long time friend. The other three, I had befriended randomly. I had talked to them just days before they passed because at some point I crossed the line, from stranger to acquaintance or friend. I could tell that my classmate was struggling a few months ago. I approached him and invited him to join a study group. I kept in touch and continued to encourage him, until the day before he took his own life. The last thing that he said was, ‘Thank you, so much. I appreciate it.’ The last thing I said was, ‘You’re welcome’. For some reason, I am grateful that we shared a few real words and not abbreviated letters or emoticons. It is a small comfort.
The last few days, I have wanted to retreat from the world. I’ve been in my pajamas all weekend, overwhelmed with the questions, why? Did I miss something? Is there something that I could have said or done? The reality is that I could not have known. I could not have seen the pain, even if I tried. But in the same way that we can’t know someone’s pain. We might not ever know how much a little conversation, or a kind word, or just a smile, might lift someone up. I’m going to keep talking to strangers and continue to give help and good things to people that I hardly know. Now, I understand my grandfather a little better. He didn’t shine joy and love from his soul because he had never experienced life’s pain. It was because he had and he knew what all of his best friends, every person he met, needed most. Love.