Many years ago, as a university student, I had just exited a train station on my way home, when a perfect stranger strode across my path. He paused to say, “How’s it kickin’ chicken? Don’t worry, you’ll make it,” and then kept on walking, disappearing into a crowd of people boarding a bus.
For all his long hair and ‘biker’ look, he could have been an angel in disguise. By my appearance, he couldn’t have possibly known that I was so unwell that even the thought of tackling the required hill to reach home overwhelmed me.
I think back on that day and marvel at the timing of it all.
Such a simple, seemingly random exchange gave me enough of a boost to get home, despite my fever and sheer exhaustion. Much to my surprise, I even managed to retain some of the information conveyed during the lectures I’d attended!
Have you ever experienced anything like that? Someone drops fleetingly into your world and changes it in an instant. Conversely, have you ever felt moved to say or do something for a friend, or even stranger, without any clue as to why?
I must confess that when such exchanges occur, there’s something exciting about the investment of energy, time, finances, encouragement – whatever it is – that can be deposited. It’s like a sense of knowing that someone’s journey has purposefully intersected yours.
For me, the connection I referred to earlier gave me enough resilience not only for that walk, but also to get up the next day and drag myself back to university again. Eventually a friend hauled me off to the doctor’s (only undergrad laboratory session I ever missed!) and I recovered, but who knows what I might have done if that man hadn’t taken the opportunity to encourage me? I might have stayed in bed for days and fallen further behind with my study. I might have even given up on my study for the semester. His words gave me the strength to tackle another day, which was another little step towards attaining my degree.
This brings to mind the image of a fish flipping up out of the water of a lake and plopping back under the surface. You see the split second of action, hear the splash, but long after the fish has disappeared, that motion will translate into a ripple that runs out towards the periphery of the body of water. Along the way the tiny wave might wash against a boat, some water reeds, waterbirds, or sometimes it can be seen reaching all the way to the water’s edge.
Every person we contact presents an opportunity to create a ripple – positively or negatively. The intersection of our lives might be simply a smile to a stranger and no more, or it could be like the man crossing that road and create a ripple that runs to the very end of our life. We may never know if our wave reaches the edge, but what a privilege to consider that it might.