“I want you to know that if you need me to hold your hand, I’m there.”–Paquita Williams
I listen to NPR–a lot. I know, I know, that’s not really a shock, since I use NPR references in lots of my posts as a way to back up the fact that I’m essentially a nerd. And on Friday mornings, NPR works with the StoryCorps project, highlighting a story every week. This week, the story happened to be about a friendship that has developed between a subway rider and a subway conductor in New York. The story is only two and a half minutes long, and as I listened, I was struck by the statement I used in the introduction.
Conductor Paquita Williams talked about a moment in her own life where she didn’t get the compassion and support she was hoping for. There was a moment of choice for Ms. Williams. She could have chosen to dwell on the failure of the other person. Instead, she chose to use that moment to guide her own behavior and responses, placing upon herself the responsibility of making sure that those around her receive the compassion she didn’t.
This is a moment that all of us will face (often more than once). We will be confronted by insecurity, selfishness, grouchiness, thoughtlessness or just plain mean behavior. We can choose to let that negativity in. We can allow it to shape how we think about ourselves. We can allow it to trickle forward into how we respond to others. Or we can do as Paquita Williams has done.
We can choose to offer forgiveness to the person who didn’t or couldn’t meet our need. And this isn’t a turn-the-other cheek and allow bad behavior to continue kind of forgiveness. This kind of forgiveness is an internal experience of accepting that someone else’s bad behavior is not our fault or responsibility. It unhooks our self-worth from their behavior. This forgiveness allows others to fail because they are human, not because they are responding to some flaw or lack inside of us.
And then we can choose to use that moment of our unmet need to remind us that those around us need contact and compassion too. That even our small gestures, like making eye contact, offering a smile, offering a hand–those have the power to change the course of someone’s day. When we reach outside of the insecurity, sadness, loneliness, heartbreak, stress or frustration that we are experiencing and allow ourselves to connect with others around us, we can change the world. One hand at a time.
Please know that when I’m writing this, I’m not trying to minimize the pain you may be experiencing. I know that pain is real, and heavy. Instead, I hope that Paquita Williams reminds you, as she reminded me, that we can all reach out a hand. That we don’t lose that power, even in our moments of darkness.
Who has reached out a hand to you? When did you get to offer that support? Please share.