I had just forced myself back into running after a hiatus of several weeks (and, truth be told, I’m not really a runner anyway).
A runner passed me. As he did, he flared his left fingers into a brief wave. He looked vaguely like someone I know, but I thought, “No. He’d have said something.”
Then I saw him make his small wave at a runner going the opposite direction. And the bicyclist approaching him.
The cyclist’s head turned. You could almost see the question on his face, “Did I know that guy?”
Down the trail the runner went, making his small, friendly gestures along the way. Behind him, I could see the effect. People looked. They smiled. Their spirits were lifted.
I’ve been reflecting on several funerals that I’ve recently attended. How can a memorial service stick with you if you didn’t know the person?
I remember how my neighbor’s mother took someone in to her home when they were alone and ill with cancer, how she cared for a child day in and day out while the child’s mother was fighting to recover. Yesterday I listened as my friend’s father was remembered for his ability to find a personal connection with those around him, a man who never checked his intellectual curiosity at the door of the university where he taught, but also never played the game of intellectual one-upsmanship or intimidation.
My father told my niece, “In time, the world will forget all but a very few of us. But in the hearts of those we love, lies our chance to be remembered.”
The guy on the bike trail. The stories told at funeral. What these disparate experiences tell me is that we have the potential to have an impact beyond those we love.
A gesture, even a small one, received at just the right time, may be remembered. Stories are retold. Something is carried forward and becomes part of a new narrative.