"Overcoming the need to create outsiders is our greatest challenge as human beings." Melinda Gates, The Moment of Lift
Yesterday, my daughter-in-law, Alanna, received a grateful email. It came as the result of an article written by Rachel Macy Stafford telling a story of feeling ignored, excluded, invisible.
Stafford’s story involves accompanying her daughter to a new extracurricular activity. Unsure how things run, she walks up to two women waiting with their children. She explains that she is new and politely asks about protocol.
What Stafford receives in response to her query is annoyed facial expressions and curt answers. Sticking with her desire to connect, Stafford tries again the next week.
“Hello, how are you both doing today?” Stafford asks warmly. She gets a few mumbled responses followed by the women turning their backs to her and talking with each other. Stafford senses internal pain both for herself and her daughter.
The third week, as Stafford and her daughter approach where the two women are standing, she registers a twinge in her stomach…perhaps of awkwardness, anxiety, or embarrassment she imagines. It causes her to stop trying to connect anymore.
Then something wonderful happens. Stafford said to herself and to her daughter, “Remember this.”
Remember this when someone approaches you and asks you a question – see the bravery behind the words.
Remember this when you see someone stop trying – perhaps he’s been rejected one too many times.
Remember this when you see someone being excluded or alienated – just one friendly person can relieve the painful sense of feeling invisible.
Remember the deepest desire of the human heart is to belong…to be welcomed…to know you are seen and worthy of kindness.
Amazing flip Stafford did there with her wounding. She used others’ harmful, hurtful behaviors as an impetus to become a better person herself. The unkindness she received helped her gain awareness and compassion for others who have been excluded.
Stafford switches to reminiscing about her daughter moving to a new school. The daughter says, “I hope there is just one other new person. Just one.”
Stafford starts wrapping up her article this way:
With one invitation, we can take someone from outsider to insider
From outcast to beloved member
From wallflower to life-of-the-party
From shortened life expectancy to 80 years of joy.
Stafford promises that the last line is not an exaggeration, it’s taken directly from Dr. Dean Ornish, the founder of the Preventive Medicine Research Institute as he writes about the magnitude of the effects of loneliness saying that no other factor, not diet, not smoking, not exercise, not stress, not genetics, not drugs, not surgery has greater impact on our incidence of illness and premature death.
"Just remember though," I'm thinking to myself after reading the article that "just one person can save the life of another. Who has been that person for me? How can I remember to be that person to someone else?"
That's probably exactly what Alanna's friend was thinking when she read the article. Then she remembered that Alanna was that one person for her. Her friend realized the full impact of Alanna including her, welcoming her, pulling her in as a stranger, a new person without friends or connections.
Alanna sent me the message from her friend as well as the article. She knew this was no small story to me.
As I look out in my community and the larger world, I can think of nothing more important than welcoming the stranger, connecting with others, understanding how painful it is to feel excluded and lonely, knowing the power of just one person. Making a pact to be the one.
Some time back I tried to tell an old Tennessee friend, Lynn, about what she did for me way back in seventh grade. My family had just moved to Morristown.
Here I was in the dreaded position of walking into the school lunchroom. Lynn does not remember it, but she saw me there, the new girl standing with my tray in my handing looking around for some place to sit.
Lynn waved to me and yelled out, “Come sit over here with us.” All my stress instantly melted. How fortunate was I to learn the power of just one person the easy way.
I've shared this story with my granddaughters in hopes of helping them remember to be the one. It's hard. Some are shy. Some feel awkward.
It might help us all to remember...the times we have been the stranger, the one excluded, the pain of isolation and the power of connection. And to remember that the deepest desire of the human heart is to belong…to be welcomed…to know you are seen and worthy of kindness. Perhaps it could propel us past our obstacles of shyness, awkwardness, fear.
And while we are at, I'm certainly in, to practicing the magic of turning our wounds into lessons in compassion.
(Please do send me your stories. I know you have them, love, June)