The following story was shared on Facebook and covered by WGHP-TV in North Carolina.
Four-year-old Norah and her mom were just grabbing cupcakes at the grocery store for Norah’s birthday – they didn’t realize that their lives were about to change.
“Hi old person! It’s my birthday today!” – called Norah from her cart to an elderly man passing by. Caught by surprise, Dan Peterson stopped, smiled and replied, “Well hello little lady! And how old are you today?”
Norah asked her mom, Tara, if she could get a photo with Dan before they all went on their separate ways. After posting the story and photo on Facebook, Tara was contacted by someone that knew Dan. They shared with Tara that Dan had lost his wife and he had not smiled since the encounter with Norah.
Tara and Norah ended up visiting Dan shortly thereafter. Norah gave Dan their photo from the store in a frame, some pictures that she colored (which of course ended up on Dan’s fridge) and some sweet treats. Norah sat on Dan’s lap for hours as he shared stories from his life.
Tara and Norah now regularly visit Dan who has become a special member of their family.
Each new year, I share my New Year’s wish in hopes of inspiring others and challenging myself to be the best version of me. When I heard the story above about Norah, Tara and Dan, I knew that it was perfectly aligned to what I am wishing for in 2017.
There is a great deal of unrest around the world. We often find ourselves consumed by the latest posts, tweets and pics that we fail to notice those sitting right across from us. The man on the street begging for his next meal triggers more stereotypes than solutions. A student that acts up in class is mislabeled a nuisance with a learning disability while their struggles at home are ignored. The woman that cuts us off on the way to work is a jerk even though we have no idea why she is in such a rush. I could go on and on with examples of how we all snap judgements, make decisions and take actions without always having the full story.
It appears that it is easier to focus on our needs, wants and feelings. We don’t want to be wrong. We don’t always embrace change that well. And we are too busy to slow down and consider alternative points of view or options. We stick to what we know, we trust what we have been taught and life goes on.
The trouble with this approach is that we miss out on so much. Despite our human desire to feel connected to others, we push people away. We bypass valuable lessons that could enrich our lives by opening new doors and challenging our assumptions. We stick to our routines because they are comforting and fail to consider how alternative choices could lead to greater happiness.
I don’t know why Norah called out to Dan in the grocery store or what was going through Dan’s mind when Norah asked him to take a photo with her. But I do know that kids are a lot smarter than we give them credit for. Norah sparked something in Dan that day that was life changing. His smile surfaced the moment he rediscovered what it felt like to be noticed. And the photo likely reminded Dan of the power of human connection, which is a great source of strength.
This new year, I wish for greater empathy and compassion. I want us to start noticing each other. I want us to focus on and express our gratitude for the little things that we do for one another – a genuine smile, holding the door, buying a cup of coffee, coloring a picture or leaving a note.
I want us to step outside of our routines and walk a different path, explore something new, and commit to continually learning from those around us. Discover the stories that others have to share with us by inviting them into our lives. Seek to understand what someone else is going through or what experiences have shaped their point of view.
Amazing things can happen this year if we are kind to each other and seek strength in human connections. Let’s embrace diversity and celebrate compassion while we channel Norah’s openness, Tara’s familial spirit and Dan’s love.
How will you spread kindness this year?