Category Archives: Life

Be a Blessing


I had never cared much for the expression, “be a blessing” to someone, but now it is all I think about. It pops into my head at random daily moments, such as when the kid who bags my groceries tells me to have a nice day. At first, I am tempted to give a quick closed-mouth smile or a cursory, “you too.” Something clicks, and it occurs to me that I need make an effort to be earnest in that moment. So I work up my most genuine smile, make eye contact, and tell him that I hope he has a super day, as well. My previous automatic response and my new heart-felt one seem the same on the surface, but I feel strangely better knowing that I’ve tried to jam all of the sincerity I can corral and place it on a platter in front of a stranger I may never see again. In doing so, the “be a blessing” phrase pops in my head, and a new habit slowly forms.

Now that this habit is taking root, it is shocking to see how many similar opportunities bubble to the surface, and how pleased I am to try to rise to the challenge. It forces me to “be in the moment”- another phrase I am reconsidering- because in order to be a blessing to someone, you have to be conscious and focus. You cannot be a bright spot in a fellow human being’s day if you are distracted. Grumpy moods also fall away with a genuine desire to be kind.

Kindness is at the heart of being a blessing, and it really is easier than I thought to simply make an effort. We all could surely use more niceness in our lives, with so much stress tossed at us from all angles. Holding doors open, tipping a little more generously, offering compliments, remembering to ask about a co-worker’s sick mom, buying someone a biscuit in the morning: all of these gestures only require me to briefly stop thinking about myself and let the other person’s happiness take priority.  The more I serve others, the more I acquiesce to the tenet that it is an honor to do so. I’m thinking of tweaking my personal mission statement.

This new mindset came about in a strange way: at the end of an employee interview. I was screening someone for a position in our sales department, a tall female in a tight black skirt and a silky, tan, low-cut, sleeveless blouse. From the moment I saw her, I did not want to like her. I knew that my boss would be displeased at her presentation style, with her painted talon-length fingernails, artificial hair color and distracting false eyelashes. I was immediately exhausted at the prospect of having to coach another female on how to dress in a more “Lexus-like, conservative business attire”, only to find that they never truly convert to our culture’s severely subdued fashion requirements.

My superficial judgments waned as the conversation with the talon-fingered candidate progressed, because I couldn’t help but admire her devotion to a point of view based on integrity. She simply wanted to work at a place where she would be encouraged to offer remarkable customer service. She was striving to succeed in a professional environment where everyone subscribes to the ethics of honest selling. She looked me in the eyes and she listened to everything I said. I was beginning to overlook the fashion blunders.

I was also slightly endeared to her because she was nervous. If she seemed slightly fidgety during the interview, she was downright rattled by the end. It was as if she fell in love with the job after hearing details about the dealership, and the significance of our dialogue increased exponentially with each passing minute. As I left her in the care of another manager, she effused gratitude at what she called my “great kindness”. She made it seem that I had done something beyond just ask some questions about her skills, that I had perhaps given her some life-changing gift.

The only gift I had given her was complete honesty in the interview, sharing everything that mattered in that moment. I told her what is impressive about our dealership, and what is challenging. I gave her a glimpse of what she could expect from me if things proceeded to the next level; I told her my strengths and weaknesses. I let her know that the talons would likely need trimming, and conveyed the pressures that come with working in a luxury environment. I said that I expected her to take ownership of mistakes, and promised that I would do likewise. Her gratitude for this honesty took me my surprise. I have been this frank with candidates in the past, and they always received the information as commonplace. At the end of this conversation, though, I walked away feeling that I had been a blessing to her. She nervously expected a difficult interview, and instead experienced a straightforward dialogue.

The thing about being a blessing to someone, however, is that both parties receive happiness. I walked away from that interview with a new inspiration that has stayed with me ever since. Others smile more brightly at me when I give them my sincere cheerfulness, and I become increasingly addicted to the high of being a blessing to…well, anyone. Friends, family, coworkers, customers, store clerks and servers  are all candidates for my new-found mission. Mind you, I am not taking on a new personality, and realize the limits that my serious disposition pose in the face of this new approach. The outgoing perky gene is just not in my DNA. But if small tokens of goodwill are all that is required to being a blessing to others, and it feels this good to do it, that is a habit worth embracing.

New Year poem, written 20 years ago

How full a life!

How many adventures-

Yet when it’s all said and done

The full living means nothing

Only the ability to be a good person.

Try not to make decisions based on fear

And especially not based on ego

Take a day to be quiet and think

Take a day to organize and regroup

Come back refreshed

And ready to give back to others.

Smile at the puppy, the child, the flower

Notice the bird, the lizard, the wind

Take all kinds of art into your consideration

And memorize at least one great poem.

Groom well, much as a cat would

Play hard, much as a puppy might

Be grateful when you are fortunate

And courageous when you’re not

Self-pity will take you nowhere

Bravery will lead you everywhere

As you set out on your next adventure.


The Dinner Guest


“If you could have dinner with anyone at all, who would it be?” Penny asked Sheldon this question on a recent Big Bang Theory episode. After the show, I pressed Kevin for his answer and he didn’t even blink. “My lovely wife, of course!” Pause. There was a moment of silence. He realized that my brain was racing with options of exciting potential dinner guests spanning all ages, races, and personalities. “I’m guessing that your answer is not dinner with me?”

It’s not that my husband isn’t my most important dining companion, it’s just that I was intrigued by how problematic it would be to glean one person out of countless options. The question was not about how I would spend my last meal, or who is my all-time favorite person. The way I interpreted it, we were summoned to select one individual in order to share some meaningful facetime. At worst, it would make for a cool story, which is something I constantly seek. At best, the experience could be life-changing. Should I dine with someone important or famous or engaging or entertaining? The Dalai Lama, perhaps? The President? Elizabeth Gilbert? David Sedaris? Morgan Freeman? Kathy Griffin? Jim Carrey? Once the query had been posed, I couldn’t get it out of my head, because I couldn’t figure out who my person would be.

A few names bubbled to the surface that I immediately discarded because I could probably make those occasions happen on my own. The fiercely intelligent Nadia Butler, an inspiring local success story, would likely accept my invitation if I had the nerve to call and request some of her time. I would also love to see Ben Holstein, my dear friend from college, but again, I know I could swing it myself if I would just schedule some time to fly to Kansas City. Other names include people with whom I’ve lost touch: my best friend from high school, Donna Lewis, as well as my mentor and former boss during the Clinique years, Katherine Cripps. It was just too difficult to choose.

Waiting to board a plane in the O’Hare airport, I had plenty of time to ponder this conundrum. One thing I did decide is that I disliked the airport, which is much older and less organized than my “home” airport in Atlanta. In Chicago, the ceilings are much lower, making an already claustrophobic environment even more oppressive. I moved from gate to gate, trying to find a less conjested space. I distracted myself with a Chicago hotdog, then a slice of pizza, and finally some local flavored popcorn called “Chicago mix”. Schlepping down the corridor, burdened with my luggage and food, I stopped frozen in my tracks when I saw the title of a book for sale in the sundries store: “The Opposite of Loneliness”. I immediatly thought it was the best book title ever; I purchased it on the spot.

Back at my dingy blue gate, I started reading what I learned was a collection of essays and short stories by Marina Keegan, a writer of astonishing talent. The introduction, written by her former writing professor Anne Fadiman, brought me to tears. Apparently Ms. Keegan had penned the “Opposite of Loneliness” essay shortly before she perished in a violent car crash. She died just five days after she graduated from Yale. The piece went viral, as people everywhere related to her poignant plea to live fully and embrace the beautiful uncertainty of youth. The essay was lyrically engaging, and was ultimately combined with other pieces she wrote, including short stories, and published into a book. Had I not traveled to Chicago, I may not have discovered it.

Delta agents called for pre-boarding, and because I had splurged on an upgraded ticket, I was soon settled into my comfy seat in the first row and began to watch the flight attendants bustle about. I would watch a bit, munch a bit, read a bit. The two-hour flight zipped by as if it were no more significant than preview time at the movies. The attendants visited our section often to offer amenities. While my fellow passengers were liberally partaking of the free flow of alcohol, I sat there engrossed in my own world.

It occurred to me, in that moment, that Ms. Keegan would have made an excellent choice for a dinner companion. Her voice was in my head now, and to be able to hear that voice in person would have been, I have no doubt, a transformative experience. The authenticity of her writing and the immensity of her thinking was exactly the kind of inspiration I was pining for. The point of hypothetical conversations, in the end, is to force us to consider what are the most true aspects of our lives. I was essentially having dinner with my person of choice. I was contemplating her extraordinary vision and felt inspired to live more fully in a way a writer hasn’t challenged me to do since I studied Rilke in college:

Fling the emptiness out of your arms into the spaces we breathe;
perhaps the birds will feel the expanded air with more passionate flying.

Like Ms. Keegan, Rilke challenged us that life is more than the mundane details which consume us; it is something more lovely and engimatic. As Ms. Keegan’s friend Luke Vargas explains in this tribute video: “She led with what what was most personal and I think the places she went in her writing will give other people hope that they can find something at the end of their journey also.” The life we live every day is not life. We must strive to have an impact on the world, and we do that by pursuing what is honest and essential. This eloquent message was presented most poetically from a once-in-a-lifetime dinner companion, and I’m grateful for it.