I love sidewalk chalk.
I love drawing clumsy flowers with it. I love making clichéd rainbows, footprints leading up my front walk, sketching Buddhist or Wiccan or Pagan symbols with it.
I also like to write with it, and last year, I wrote a lot of different things. Seasonal greetings. Questions that I left a piece of chalk out for people to use to answer. Favorite quotations. One quote, unabashedly one of my own, stayed on my porch’s outside wall for the whole year.
This year, after I moved, I got this card, left anonymously on my former doorstep:
“A few weeks ago, I was in a really tough place emotionally. I had been feeling depressed and restless, and was walking through the neighborhood in an attempt to settle myself when I saw the message you had written on the side of your house: ‘Making peace with what is makes space for what’s next.’
“That was exactly what I didn’t know I needed to hear. Today I gathered the courage to make a big life change that will lead to a positive ‘what’s next,’ and wanted you to know how grateful I am to you for being part of my journey. Thanks, E.”
I don’t know who “E” is, but I will be forever grateful to him or her for this letter. So many times, we have no idea what impact we are making on other people’s lives. Maybe we even get fooled into believing we make no difference at all.
I got lucky enough to find out that I made a positive difference in one stranger’s life. It’s the greatest gift ever, and I keep this card on my refrigerator every day so that when I’m feeling small or sad or disappointed with myself or scared, I can go look at it and be reminded that I did at least one really cool thing in the world. And maybe, if I did this one thing, there could be another cool thing or two I did or will do somewhere along the way.
This is one of the reasons I’m very glad that I make a point of letting people—even and sometimes most especially strangers—know when they’ve made a difference in my day or my life. Friends who come “kidnap” me when I’m stressed out and take me out to a play, their treat. A loved one’s tender act of beauty or care. A cashier who took the time to look me in the eye, recognize me as a fellow human being, and talk to me with kindness. A customer service rep who takes extra time to explain something very very simply to me that I’m just not getting.
Even George Bailey, possibly the nicest guy in all of movie history, didn’t know the impact he had on all of Bedford Falls until angel wannabe Clarence showed him. The rest of us non-movie characters, schlepping along doing the best we can? We often don’t have a clue that anyone else even notices us, let alone that we make a difference.
Of course I encourage all of you to let the people who brighten your moment, your day or your life know. That’s actually pretty easy—and a lot of fun to do.
But I’m also going to ask you to do something much harder: believe, even in the absence of obvious evidence, that you, just by walking around being you, make more of a positive difference in the world than you will likely ever know.
As I said, I got lucky. I got a card from a stranger, telling me so.
Consider this, then, my card to you.