Note: This column first appeared in the December 28, 2011 edition of the Barrow Journal.
Last week I received a touching e-mail from a man in Australia who had found a column I wrote last year about my friend, J.J. Reneaux. She was a famous storyteller, musician and award-winning writer, and she died of cancer over ten years ago.
He wrote, “I have no great reason to write to you except that I thought it wouldn’t hurt to lend some affirmation to your feeling that she had a good and positive influence on peoples’ lives.”
He went on to tell me how he had bought her book, Cajun Folktales, while on a trip to New Orleans in the 1990s. His eldest daughter, who is now 23, fondly remembers the tales, and his younger children enjoy them now.
He wrote of his son: “It’s certainly his favourite book and I think will be something, a shared experience, he may remember forever.” This is important to him because he, too, is dying of cancer.
I was deeply saddened to learn about his fate, yet I was awed how J.J. is still affecting people’s lives…and even their afterlives. And it affirmed for me a deep belief: that we all have meaning. The stories we create in this life will keep affecting people well after we are gone.
But I’m not talking about stories we make up and write down in a book. J.J. taught me that my personal story matters. How do I choose to live this life?
Last year I also wrote about the kindness shown to me by an employee at the Winder Publix on Highway 11. There was a terrible storm outside, and I needed help to my car even though I would never ask for it. Though it was part of his job, this gentleman went the extra mile to help me, and the good cheer he showed me that morning stayed with me all day.
I’m sure we all have stories of meeting people whose enthusiasm for life is contagious. Sure, there are those who feign happiness for the sake of appearances, but the sincere ones have an easy way about them. We know it’s real, and it makes us feel good.
I’m not an award-winning writer whose stories will be read for many generations like J.J.’s, and I may not be remembered for bending over backwards for a stranger, but I realize that the thoughts I hold and the attitude I wear can make a difference. Opening a door, picking up a pen that someone dropped, or even a smile can help a little. Moreso, scowling at the world, cutting someone off in traffic, or yelling at people for no good reason can have crippling affects that spread out.
That pebble thrown into water metaphor comes to my mind: “Every act of kindness is like a pebble thrown in a pond sending out ripples far beyond where the pebble entered the water. When we’re caring and kind to our neighbors, our actions send rings of kindness that spread from neighbor to neighbor to neighbor.” That’s attributed to Angela Artemis.
If there’s one New Year’s resolution I make this year, it will be to remember that my actions have a larger meaning than I usually give them credit for. Without my knowing it, something I said, did or wrote could affect someone miles away, long after I’m gone. I hope you’ll remember that too. You matter. We all matter.