At my ten-year high school reunion last year, I found myself talking with a woman I didn’t know and couldn’t remember for the life of me. I was picking my brain the whole time, scanning back through memories of classroom layouts, after-school theatre productions, choir and band practices, and other extracurricular activities, and I just couldn’t place her. But she kept talking about all of these memories she had that involved me. Finally she mentioned a class we had together. I thought back over that class and walked through the seating chart. Nope. Nothing. Couldn’t place her. Maybe she was just making this up, right?
A few minutes later, sitting at a table, I was approached by a guy I did actually recognize but didn’t know well. We hadn’t been friends, and I was pretty sure I’d never really had a conversation with him. So you can imagine my surprise when he struck up a conversation with me, not with the other folks at the table. And then a strange thing happened. Instead of the normal this-is-what-I’ve-been-doing-for-the-last-ten-years chit chat, he just thanked me for being his friend in high school. He said I was always nice to him, that it had meant a lot.
And I couldn’t remember a single conversation. I don’t remember being nice. Even now, I can picture him, but I can’t remember his name.
Recently, J returned home from a conference and asked me if I knew Jane Smith (obviously not her real name). Jane Smith? Nope. Don’t think I do. Why? “Well, she said you took her out for coffee when we lived in Texas.” I’m sorry, what? I took her out for coffee? And I don’t remember her? (You see, one of the things I did at our church in Texas was contact people who signed up on the visitor list, and I’d ask if they had any questions about the church or wanted to get together to chat. Apparently the last summer, just before we moved across the country, I kindly e-mailed Jane and we ended up chatting over coffee.)
Three years later, I don’t remember her, but she remembered me enough that when she saw J’s last name (a not-very-forgettable double last name) on his conference nametag, she asked if he was my husband.
The point of this post is not to acknowledge my terrible memory when it comes to people from my past, though I’ve developed a charming personality that has mostly enabled me to get away with it.
It’s also not to brag and point out how amazing I am in being patient, nice, kind, and compassionate. Because I’m not amazing. The extent to which I am any of these things is enabled only through grace and, quite frankly, a lot of work on my part.
No, this is my point:
Our lives—the conversations we have, the eyes ours meet, the smiles we share—make a difference in other people’s lives all the time. All the time.
Sure, we all have different gifts, but I don’t think you can get out of this one. Your life affects people.
Even people you won’t remember.
So slow down a minute and start paying attention.
Start loving people.