By LINDA PETERSEN
A colleague of mine made it a point to come into my office to see me today. She was at a conference where a woman came up to her and raved on and on profusely about what a big difference I had made in her life. She wanted my co-worker to let me know she had been sad and lonely and had been contemplating suicide. With the information I gave her about recreational and social options around the state, she now leads a full and happy life. I don’t remember the woman, or even the details of the phone call, but I am a big advocate for everyone living a full and happy life, and it was that feeling of inclusion that was passed along to her. No big deal on my part, of course, it is just what I do.
The incident got me thinking about how we all affect others in a positive way. It is expected that religious leaders have influence on people; they are there during the happy moments of life; the birth of a child and marriage, and are also there during out saddest moments, like the death of a loved one. But every single week can have a direct effect on our quality of life. Growing up somewhat as vagabonds, my mom and I used to find spiritual time every Sunday, either in a nearby church of any denomination, or on a mountainside overlooking a sunrise. Theoretically raised with the strict Catholic catechism, my child’s mind would still feel guilty if we didn’t attend mass at an actual Catholic Church. The feeling of a peach pit in my stomach would haunt me throughout the day because I had learned one would go to hell for missing mass, and the thought of a never ending hell would circle crazily inside my young head. After the birth of my son, I converted to Lutheranism. It was one Sunday when the female pastor talked about cleaning her bathroom while writing her sermon, that comfort enveloped me. When she said that it was great if you could attend church every Sunday, but that sometimes it was okay to miss church for a good reason, I literally wanted to scream from the rafters “Yes! Yes! Yes!” The peach pit never visited my stomach again, and my life of guilt was changed forever.
Every teacher has the ability to change young lives. My success today is directly related to the many teachers who encouraged me to be the best I could be. Conversely, a negative comment can wreck havoc on a child’s ego. I still cringe when thinking of my seventh grade teacher yelling at me during a time when she must have been dealing with a personal issue because she was very crabby! My tattered ego from that one incident would be multiplied a million fold for those children who are always getting criticized and shrieked at, and one would suspect that their adult quality of life would be affected.
While it goes without saying that volunteers have direct positive effects on people’s lives, I am going to say it anyway. Such an awesome group of people have changed society for the better. Think of all of the food pantries and soup kitchens that fill stranger’s tummies with nourishment. Think of all of the individuals who are assisted with transportation to doctor appointments, cheered by a Friendly Visitor, have their yard cleaned or shoveled of snow, and are delivered a hot meal during the day. Kind gestures such as these contribute to the quality of life of the recipients.
Even seemingly innocent gestures can have heartwarming results. People who hold the door and smile at me and drivers who signal with a hearty wave and a smile as they let me cut in front of them always make me smile in return, replacing any negative thoughts I may have had before hand. What catastrophe was I musing about? I can’t remember because it was replaced with a happy thought.
In our everyday lives we interact with people. Sometimes, the interactions have minimal consequences, but sometimes the consequences are unintended but monumental. Everything we say and do has a ripple effect, and our connections with other people can change lives for the better without us even realizing it!