I had a phone conversation with my 88-year-old mother the other day.
I noticed on this call that she was feeling very melancholy. She talks about the past more often than she does the
present. I guess that is to be expected, given that besides her Bridge Tournaments and Tea Ceremony classes, there aren't many new interactions in her life.
She seemed to be working herself up to saying something important. She took a deep breath and declared, "I have one very deep regret in my life," she goes on to tell me of a woman that peripherally touched her life in her early 20s before she met my dad, who was so kind to her and encouraged her all the time. When food was scarce after the war, she shared her food and gave her treats as being of a higher socio-economic class, and did not suffer the vagaries post-war that my mother did as the daughter of a single mom.
She said she encouraged her to dream, think big, and live as if anything were possible. "Well, what was your regret then?" I asked. It sounds like she was an incredible influence and mentor. Her breath caught, and I could hear her sobbing on the other end of the line. Then she croaked out, 'I never thanked her.". I sat in a kind of stunned silence. Here is a woman who, at 88, thinks her biggest regret was that she did not thank someone who was kind to her in her 20s. Wow.
I am an encourager by nature. Most mornings, I have encouraged at least 5-10 people before putting my makeup on. It doesn't take that much to sincerely cheer someone on, donate to their Kickstarter Campaign, promote their business or give them kudos for a job well done. That is just second nature. I think we all do the things that we crave in return the most, right?
The next day, I was scrolling through Facebook and noticed a Facebook friend wrote a poignant post. With his permission and wish to remain anonymous, I include it below. It is an ode to his friend Michael from over 30 years ago.
"I looked down at the grass stains on the knees of my brand-new khaki pants. Michael was next to me, his white Pat Boone sneakers now a dark shade of brown. It was raining. Mud was everywhere, and the smell of wet cow dung from the adjoining pasture filtered through the tall green grass, pungent and deadly. The cows were already in the barn, warm and being milked.
Michael was my best friend—we rode bicycles the rest of that afternoon with cardboard cards pinned to the chain stays that made a "clack, clack, clack" sound the faster we peddled, alone on our imaginary Hondas, discovering some exotic, faraway place.
I was an only child, a loner, already an outcast at the age of 10, and still sick with asthma, but Michael was my brother, if not in blood, then certainly in spirit. Whenever I visited his home, his grandmother would poke her head out the weathered screen door at dinner and say, "You join us too, you come in too," and I was no longer the outcast. I had not one but two families, large and safe.
But that was long ago and years before Michael died, alone in the jungles of South Vietnam, shot while being hoisted up by a Bell Huey; his grasp on the rope was cut short by a sniper's bullet. If the shot didn't kill him, the fall surely did.
In the summer of 1980, I got a letter from his daughter Katelyn, now a young woman, wanting to know what he was like, and I felt ashamed.
"Tell me about Dad," her letter stated, "tell me what he was like."
I was ashamed because I never really knew him as an adult when lives really mattered. What could I tell her? That I went surfing with him in high school and how he laughed when I kept falling off the board? Or I went spearfishing in the warm waters of the Pacific and nearly drowned because I got tired and the current kept pulling me further out, and I kept thinking, "This is it, I'm going to die," and then feeling Michael's hands across my shoulders, pulling me towards the shore.
In the spring of '87, my wife and I, tired of living in Manhattan, decided to drive across America. We quit our jobs, stuffed everything we owned into our tiny Toyota two-seater, and headed south on I-95 toward Washington in search of a new life. I had wanted to see the Wall. It was almost dark when we finally got there, tired and hungry. I looked for Michael's name, finding it among the W's, and cried, thinking of Katelyn and her loss.
I felt angry and frustrated at myself. "Everyone cries here," I thought to myself. And suddenly, in the twilight, I saw Michael standing in front of me, smiling. Reaching out, my arms passed through him. I wanted to hold him. "I love you, Mike," I whispered, hoping no one would hear; after the guilt had passed, hoping everyone would.
I used to like the military. I played war games as a child. I was an Eagle Scout. My father earned a Silver Star as a sergeant fighting Nazis with the 442nd Lightning Division. But somehow, I had lost that affection for the army and all the things it stood for. Death was no longer an abstraction. It was losing friends like Michael and the feeling that Katelyn would never know him as I did and that she would never feel the safety of his arms around her shoulders, swimming towards shore."
I don't know about you, but the two events made me pause. On the one hand, it reinforced that being an Encourager was a great thing and not for the thanks you get but for how it makes YOU feel doing it. I want people to imagine a better version of themselves and work towards that. I feel lucky that, for the most part, I am quick to thank and say, "Oh, whether you know it or not, I needed to hear that and thanks!". I have had several older women in my life who have immensely influenced me. I rest easy knowing that I could voice my gratitude to them many times.
I do ponder what regrets I might have if I am lucky enough to make it to 88 and more, like my mother. Take a moment and think about what that might be for you. We are not guaranteed another moment of our lives. If you have someone who has influenced you in a positive way that you want to thank, do it today. It will make their day, I guarantee it.
Listen to it here and let me know what you think.
It's June and a great time to check your results against your Business Plan and see what needs to be tweaked. If you don't want to leave it to Lady Luck and need some coaching, reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.