A few months back, I was walking Olivia home from school when we passed an older woman walking a small dog on a leash. As we approached, he began yipping and tugging her forward to get closer to us. It was pretty adorable.
When things like this happen, the owner will usually try to hush their pet or tell us how friendly he is. That’s what I was expecting when she opened her mouth and began to speak. What I didn’t expect was this:
Look at that. All the time. Ever since you were five years old, he’d always do that. Yip yip at you. All he wants to do is play with you. Ha ha. That whole time.
I responded with a polite, “Aw, such a cute little dog.” Olivia said nothing. The reason why? We both had no idea who this woman was.
As we began to walk in opposite directions, my daughter turned her head to me, contorted her face into a weird look, and, in a pretty loud voice, let out a comedic…
Yeah, sometimes I’m convinced that the nine year old girl who lives in my house is actually Jerry Lewis in disguise. Keep in mind, the woman was literally ten feet away from us at this point. Without missing a step, I leaned in, nudged her arm, and gave her a look that spoke volumes.
Proving that my Jerry Lewis theory was wrong and she actually was a nine year old kid, she followed up with the worst excuse ever.
Oh, Daddy. I wasn’t making that sound about the lady. Ha ha. No. I was thinking of something else that happened today.
Rather than play some roundabout reverse psychology guessing game for an hour, I opted to be straight forward. My blunt answer wasn’t what she was expecting.
No. That’s not true at all. You made that sound because we have no idea who that woman is.
She broke into hysterics and made a face that showed she knew she had been caught. That’s when I got all Ward Cleaver on her.
You have to remember, though. That lady might have a life that’s not as fun as ours. Maybe she sees us once every few months while walking her dog. It’s not a big deal to us because we forget about it, but maybe it’s a big part of her day. Maybe she doesn’t have anyone else in her life. So while it might seem strange to us, she’s just being nice. So we shouldn’t make her feel bad, right?
I didn’t think much about any of this until I started to get older. That’s the only time when it becomes relevant. When you’re young, everything is monumental. Most of your friends have been there since you can remember. Every fight is a war. Every crush is a romantic love affair. Every misstep is a Greek tragedy. As time goes on, though, you realize that it’s all a matter of perspective. The most important moments to you might mean nothing to someone else and the times you forgot all about could be something someone else holds on to forever.
It’s why you see so many people rolling their eyes at “dramatic” teenagers. It’s not that they’re being dramatic. It’s that they still think that not getting invited to Cheryl’s birthday party is the end of the world. They still haven’t hit the age where they run into Cheryl at the supermarket with her two kids and accidentally call her “Carol”.
This is the type of lesson you only understand as life plays out. It’s showing up to a wedding of an old friend and being excited about seeing someone there. Then, when you show up, they seem like couldn’t care less. It can make you feel pretty bad and, the first few times these scenarios play out, they can feel confusing.
On the other side of the coin, I’ve had old acquaintances run up to me with stories of wild unforgettable times we had together. They retell memories from days gone by as if they happened yesterday.
Hey! I was thinking about that time you and I were hanging on the back of that jeep and pretended we were surfing. Then that guy yelled at us to stop! Oh man. I was just telling me wife about that yesterday.
Yeah. That was a lot of fun.
That’s a better response than, “I have no idea what you’re talking about. I don’t remember ever hanging out with you. Are you sure that happened?”
Most of us experience this from both perspectives and it tells you a lot about life. It’s a reminder that the memories we replay in our mind to our detriment might not even matter. All the mental thrashings we give ourselves over mistakes from long ago could be memories that no one else has retained.
The same can be said about positive memories too. Just because it was the greatest summer of your life doesn’t mean it was the same for all the others you shared it with. That doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be a treasured memory. It just means that it’s primarily your memory. They all are. If someone else who experienced it doesn’t feel the same way, it shouldn’t make it any less special.
The biggest lesson I take away from all of this is to watch my moments. I try to make sure that the way I interact with others is a way I’m proud of. I’m not always successful but I make a genuine attempt to remember that snapping at a co-worker or friend might feel justified in that moment because you’re having a bad day, but it could also be a moment that they never forget.
You can say the same for positive moments too. It takes very little to brighten someone’s afternoon. A positive word or a kind action can take all of ten seconds but define how that person sees you from that point forward. Then again, it might not. You never know what moments will truly stick, so it’s best to try and make them all as positive as you can.
In the end, though, it doesn’t make a difference if people remember or not. The memories aren’t the main reason to treat others with kindness. It’s to make the world a nicer place for you and those around you. That’s good enough for me.