So often we walk through life, insulating ourselves from the strangers around us.
We keep to ourselves.
We mind our own business.
We go it alone.
The chance for connection is there, just below the surface.
But we let is float by, unacknowledged.
We don't bring it up into the light.
And then yesterday something incredible happened.
A stranger stopped me at Goodwill to tell me that I was "a wonderful mother."
I stumbled around, searching for grace, and tried to quiet the knee-jerk dismissal of her compliment that was bobbing to the surface.
Blushing, I thanked her and we walked away.
We ran into each other again and she repeated her praise.
This time I was ready. My acceptance came easy.
"I wish everyone spoke to their kids that way," she said.
"Yes," I said, "but we all have different personalities; different fears; different life experience."
"Different stresses," she added.
And before I knew it we were deep in a conversation about parenting, compassion, non-judgement and respect.
She talked about her own childhood.
And I don't even know her name.
Later that day in a moment of struggle, one of my kids told me that I was "the worst mom in the world".
I held the space for my child, allowing a full expression of big emotion.
And in that messy moment a stranger's words were in my head.
I am a wonderful mother.
And I thanked her again in my mind for having the courage to tell me so.
Somehow her words helped me do better in a difficult moment.
For that I am so thankful.
Each day we have the chance to connect instead of walk on by.
We have the opportunity to lift someone up.
We have the power to choose compassion instead of judgement.
Even someone you've never met before and will never see again.
Someone who is struggling to keep her head above water.
Or another who's brimming with grace.
What would change if you chose to reach out?
To reach into the space between strangers and create community, if only for a moment.
Because if you listen just so, the screaming baby at the grocery store isn't an irritation.
It's an invitation.
A chance to give of yourself.
Your empathy, your compassion, your arms.
I once offered to hold a crying baby at the coop. And that mama, three-fourths of the way through a day of wrong-turns and struggle, looked me in the eyes and began to cry.
And then she said yes.
Thank you – yes.
Because it was so hard that day.
And when you notice a parent being patient or kind or compassionate – pause and connect.
Let her see herself as you see her.
She might just need to hear it today.
My challenge for you is this:
look into the eyes of a stranger and lift them up.
Release judgement and find compassion.
Reach into that space between strangers and create community.
Because we need each other.
It's just that for a moment we had forgotten.
Your choice to connect could change someone forever.
It might just change you, too.
Originally published in 2013.