Small Gestures That Make a Big Difference

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As we move through life, many of us touch other people in little ways that, unknown to us, have a truly profound impact on their lives. It can go both ways in terms of positive or negative impact, but the point is they are little gestures that are often insignificant and soon forgotten by the provider, but can be turning points in the lives of the recipient. I’ve often tried to find ways to get this message through to my children. Well, thanks to FaceBook, a person I don’t even remember from my teen years contacted me to say she’s been wanting to thank me for a small gesture I offered her when she was a vulnerable 14-year-old feeling some peer pressure from some of my friends. It certainly infused me with some feel-good energy, but also caused me to think about how many times I may have not done the right thing and had an equally profound impact on someone. Her contact inspired me to both seek out others and thank them for their small gestures or apologize to any I may have hurt. In the course of a few hours I had exchanges with old friends and acquaintances that inspired me and my kids. I hope you find this exchange inspiring and motivating as well. Here’s how it went.

(Full disclosure: I’ve edited very little for brevity only and changed the names to protect the innocent as well as the guilty).

Small Gestures That Make a Big Difference

To Timothy, From Tina:

You may not remember me, but I used to hang around the pool with your friends Gary and Kyle. I’m really glad to find you on FaceBook because I have wanted to thank you for something for years. It was something small that, again, you probably don’t remember, so this may sound weird, but…when I was fourteen, as I said, I used to hang out at the pool almost every day and was friends with the Gary and Kyle. They (you guys) were older, and I was pretty innocent. They were always trying to get me to do things I shouldn’t. One day, they were all trying to convince me to go to some secret place and smoke pot with them. It would have been one 14-year-old girl getting high with a bunch of high school boys. Even then I was smart enough to know it wasn’t a good idea, but I didn’t have the confidence to say so. I hemmed and hawed, but didn’t say no. Then I got up and left the club.

As I was walking out, you came out by yourself and stopped me. I don’t remember ever talking to you before. All you said to me was (yes, I do still remember the exact words), “You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do. I just wanted you to know that.”

I was surprised (to tell the truth, you were a few years older and I thought you were cute and way too cool for me!). I never forgot it.

Not only did that one gesture by you save me from doing something I’m sure I would have regretted then, but also many times in the future. You affirmed my self worth when I was vulnerable.

I teach high school now, so I’m around teenagers a lot. I knew then that what you did was unusual, but now I know HOW unusual! You must have been only 16 or 17, and I have no idea what gave a teenage boy not only the compassion to see I was torn, but also the fortitude to act. I have a 14-year-old daughter now, and I pray that if she were ever in a situation like that, there may be someone like you there to give her that assurance, too.

I’m sorry this is so long, but I have thought of you many times over the years. I’m really I glad I got a chance to say thank you. You were little more than a stranger, but I can honestly say you changed my life.

So, thank you and may God bless you and your family!

– Tina

My Reply:

Wow! That’s a heartwarming story. I honestly don’t remember that, but it sure is nice to know that a gesture so small that one can’t remember it can be so important to another person’s life. I always try to teach my children that little things can make big differences in the lives of others and now you’ve given me a perfect story to share with them. The other half of the story I want to instill in my kids is that a negative gesture can be equally destructive to another person’s life. Just as compassion can be powerful, so can selfishness. It makes me wonder for all the times I may have done the right thing, how many times was I the kid applying the peer pressure?

So while I can’t honestly say I knew you well, I do feel I know you now.

– Timothy

That inspired me to contact someone I had only been reconnected with a few days earlier on FaceBook.

From Timothy to Denny:

I hope this doesn’t come off too corny, but what the hell. All in the past few hours I’ve had some incredible exchanges with some people from my past that has my head spinning. I don’t know if you remember Tina? I do not remember her. However, she shared a story with me that I’d like to share with you. Basically she told me of an instance when we were teens when I apparently did the right thing and spared her some shame in a situation where she was feeling a great deal of peer pressure. She called it life changing. Who wouldn’t love to hear such a nice story? So Tina’s story and my conversation with my kids inspired me to seek out anyone in my life I need to thank or even apologize to since even small gestures cut both ways.

So are you seeing where I’m going? I have to say that I always admired your ability to take the brunt of our adolescent taunting and be the butt of a joke with such grace and poise. I have no question in my mind that apologies are in order from me in the event that any of my antics, while they may have seemed small to me at the time, may have been bigger in your life. So if I haven’t said it directly, I’m sorry if I was the cause of any lasting pain in your life.

As we look back at our adolescent antics from the lens of adulthood, it’s clear to most of us now why some kids tease and others are teased. You were an exceptional person then as I’m sure you are now. I can’t think of much else to say on the subject for fear of boring you to death or being too self-indulgent.

– Timothy

Reply from Denny:

Wow, Tim. I genuinely appreciate this note – it’s one of the nicest gestures I can think of, and I admire you for having the impulse to write it.

I think in some ways we grew up in a different time and environment than you find in today’s schools. I happened to be in Flint for the 10th class reunion and attended at the last minute, where I ran into Johnny Smith – remember Johnny? Well, after telling me all his success and how good he finally felt about his life, he went on for twenty minutes about how much he appreciated the fact that I was one of the very few ‘popular’ kids who hadn’t picked on him. I was stunned. I hadn’t done anything particularly outstanding; I had just treated him decently, said hello when I saw him and occasionally asked what he was up to – and ten years later there he was shaking my hand and thanking me over and over, saying “God bless you, Denny.” I’ve told the story dozens of times since then. It felt good that I had done something that someone appreciated so much… I happened to be nice to Johnny, but I wonder how many people I might have hurt along the way without ever realizing it.

…I do appreciate your apology – I admire it – and you’ve gone very quickly in my mind from “a guy I knew in high school who occasionally gave me shit” to “a guy I knew in school who’s found a passion for organic farming and making amazing sounding cherry preserves who was cool enough to apologize for occasionally making me the butt of jokes in high school that really were no big deal.”

Now I’ve gone on too long – enough said. Glad we crossed paths again as well. Happy New Year!

– Denny

Do you have a “small gesture” story to share. Please do.

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