Author Ray Bradbury once compared people to pottery.
“We get our fingers in each other’s clay,” he wrote. “That’s friendship, each playing the potter to see what we can make of each other.”
Singer/songwriter Jackson Browne had another way of looking at people. To him, we were more like dancers, teaching and learning different steps as we meet each new person.
“Just do the steps that you’ve been shown,” he sang, “By everyone you’ve ever known / Until the dance becomes your very own.”
Whether we’re dancers or potters, the message remains the same: to be human is to influence.
We have given this phenomena many names: the butterfly effect, the domino effect, chain reactions.
It is difficult to imagine (though Hollywood has certainly tried, time and time again) how our lives would be different if just one person hadn’t crossed our paths.
Blockbuster movies would have us believe that simply not saying hello to the mailman would lead to an elephant stampede halfway around the world.
And who’s to say it wouldn’t? (Though, I admit, that is probably a huge exaggeration.)
But movie dramatizations aside, the encounters we have day after day oftentimes have more influence than we first think.
I know there have been people in my life, who have come and gone as quickly and quietly as snow on warm pavement. And though they might not have staked as big a claim in my personality as family or friends, I can’t help but think they had a special kind of influence on me.
The first that comes to mind is a Schwan Food deliveryman who I remember seeing regularly as a child. He would come to our home for us to buy different items, but I also remember he would take the time to listen to the small, dark-haired child who always had some story to tell.
I even remember reading aloud to him from time to time.
What a small thing — giving a little bit of attention to a child — yet I still carry those memories of the “nice Schwan Man” with me.
And then, years later, when I was in the fourth grade, I left a journal full of stories and poems in a Gatlinburg hotel. Some thoughtful employee found the journal and held on to it until we were able to call and have it shipped back to us in Ohio.
The journal, pink with Barbie on the cover, could have just as easily been thrown away by a hurried maid. But, no, instead, someone took the time to hold onto it and make sure it found its way back to its owner.
And not so long ago, on my very first day of college classes, I was sitting outside, alone, doing some homework when a nice young man, who’s name and face I have long since forgotten, took the time to sit with me and chat.
We didn’t share any classes, nor did we really have anything in common. But we were both freshman tossed into the strange new world of college, and, on that evening, that was enough.
Who knows what difference those three small instances made in my life?
Those little experiences, where we cross into each other’s lives for only a few moments, pile up like a never-ending house of cards.
And if just one card is moved ….
Hollywood, for once, just might be on to something.
So, today, on Thanksgiving, perhaps we should be thankful, along with family, friends, and feasts fit for any king, the seemingly minor things that happen every day.
Let’s be thankful for all the little moments that have somehow shaped our lives.
And also, for the little ways we may impact others as well.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.
Sarah Allen can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.