My dear grandmother passed away last week. She was 89 years old, lived a full, good life, and had persevered through more than three years after surviving a terrible stroke. Our hearts broke, we cried, hugged, and shared so many memories of her.
One of the stories a friend of hers recounted touched me to the deepest part of my heart.
A man of about 75 or so, he stood up to give a toast at a dinner we had in my grandmother's memory, at the senior living home where she and my grandpa -- her husband of 67 years (!!!) -- had been living. My grandpa sat at the head of the table, surrounded by 25 of their friends who also live there.
The man who was giving a toast talked about a very dark time he and his wife had gone through a few years earlier, when one of their children got very sick:
"Mirra (my grandmother) saw me by the elevator, hugged me so tightly, and then put her hand on my shoulder, and just kept it there, in this warmest, most supportive way," he said.
He went on to say that he felt such love and warmth at that moment and that he was incredibly touched. He choked up as he was sharing this story -- and so did most people around the table, including me.
Not only because I was missing my grandma so much just then.
But because there was such power of love in the tiniest of her gestures: putting her hand on his shoulder.
This is what he remembered, after all these years. This is what stayed with him about her. This is my grandmother's virtue that remained deeply ingrained in his heart, her warm supportive love as a friend.
As he talked, I kept thinking about the power of tiny gestures we share with others.
My daughter greeting me with a huge smile when I come home from my cold walk.
Saying "Thank you so much!" to the barista at the coffee shop where I go often, and seeing her light up with appreciation.
A woman moving her yoga mat over so I could squeeze into a spot as I walk into a crowded yoga class.
The FedEx store employee helping me close up a big box after he saw that I was having trouble with it.
My husband's hand on my shoulder as I sit at my grandmother's memorial service, and later get up to give a speech, barely holding it together.
You can change someone's world in 5 seconds with a gesture of warmth, love, support, or just simple friendly kindness. I'm certain of it.
A few weeks ago, in the course I taught about Self-Compassion, I asked the participants to greet themselves warmly and suggested they might say something like: "Hello, sunshine!" So many wrote back to me, saying how surprised they were that something so small -- just two words said with a smile -- made such a difference in how they felt and how much kinder there were to themselves for the rest of the day.
We often think it takes something grand, something infused with a ton of effort, to make a difference in another person's life. And sometimes that is what it takes.
But more often, we can do something pretty amazing with a tiny gesture of kindness or love.
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