Last week while running, a stranger approached a stop light. She looked like a cross between Katie Couric and former Texas governor Anne Richards. She had beautiful silver hair cut in a stylish pixie. Dressed to power walk, she was lost and asked for directions to the Purple People Bridge. We were a few blocks from the bridge, and there are several bridges, so I stopped running to show her where to go. (I remember my confusion when I moved to Cincinnati. I was never quite sure exactly how to cross the Ohio River on foot and be able to get home. So I knew what she was feeling.)
As we walked, we got to know each other. We exchanged names. Her name was Mary. She lives in Cleveland and was in town for a women’s leadership summit. We talked about what brought me to Cincinnati. I explained that to the best of my knowledge it was a job at the University of Cincinnati. (We turned right toward the river.) We then talked about what I did for a living. I told her about a few of my clients. (We crossed under the expressway.) We talked about what a beautiful afternoon it was to be outside. We were definitely breathing in the sunshine and grateful for the moment. (We turned left toward the bridge she would eventually need to cross.)
We stopped as we reached the bridge. (I was going to continue my run which provided a few more miles than turning at the bridge would allow.) She had been thanking me for taking time to help her throughout our walk, but when we reached the bridge she turned to me and said, “You are an inspiration. I will never forget you.” I was stopped in my tracks. I had never been called inspiring. I feel fairly forgettable, really. I thought that I was simply helping a lost walker find her way. She thanked and acknowledged me with an earnestness and sincerity that spoke to my heart.
This encounter is important for several reasons. It speaks to the power of helping others. I believe we are called to reach out when we can. I hate being lost (which happens frequently) and did not want her to experience that if I could prevent it. I was also reminded that paying attention is an important part of what it means to be human. So often I get wrapped up in my own story and stuff that I don’t see the stranger at the stoplight. Hearing someone’s story and helping them on their way is a sacred opportunity. The encounter also taught me the importance of small gestures. We don’t have to stop global warming or cure cancer to simply be nice. Most importantly, I was reminded that we can all be a loving and inspiring force in the world. We can choose to stop, listen, and help. That basic choice can inspire.