By Nan Russell
While growing up, I heard my mother tell the story of how she traveled alone in winter on a train from Montana, via Minneapolis, to Sioux City, Iowa, with my then eighteen-month-old brother. Loaded with baby paraphernalia, the conductor suggested she exit on the left side since it wouldn't be as crowded. So at the Minneapolis station, she disembarked on the quiet side of the train with suitcase, diaper bag, toddler, and stroller.
Before she could gather her belongings, an older woman picked up my mother's diaper bag and suitcase and helped her navigate to the station, chatting with her along the way. It was then that my mother realized that Eleanor Roosevelt, the widowed ex-First Lady, was carrying her bags. At that moment, Mrs. Roosevelt was just a caring person, helping someone along the way. It was a chance encounter that left a lasting impression of kindness on my twenty-something mother.
Most of us don't encounter people with that notoriety to help us with our bags. But we do have lots of chance encounters that leave impressions. Some good; some not. I was reminded of one recently when my husband surprised me with magnificent earrings custom designed by a local jeweler. We've done business with him for years as a result of a chance encounter.
Six years ago, I was shopping with my future daughter-in-law for bridesmaid gifts in the small town where we live. She and our son had selected the top of a Montana mountain for their wedding, and Janine had her heart set on giving each bridesmaid a Montana sapphire necklace. Her budget, however, was a grand-canyon away from her desire.
Reluctantly, I followed her into an upscale main street shop. With the staff engaged, it was the owner who emerged to help us. My future daughter-in-law explained her idea. I don't know if it was her passion or her naiveté that struck him most, but without a hint of concern he assured her that he could, indeed, craft necklaces for her bridesmaids within her budget, and proceeded to offer a group of stones that she could select from. He treated Janine as if she had the stature of an Eleanor Roosevelt or a Julia Roberts.
The owner spent well over an hour with us that day helping my daughter-in-law create her vision of gifts. It was by chance we met, but it was kindness to a starry-eyed bride that created a lasting relationship. More than a dozen jewelry surprises have been hatched with him and my husband (to my benefit) since, and I'm sure Stephen doesn't remember what started our relationship.
In the scheme of things, it doesn't take much to turn a chance encounter into a lasting impact. A populist stranger and a small town merchant both etched a memory with their kind hearts. What I've come to understand is this: everyday, we are that chance encounter in someone else's life. I've found, in the bigger scheme of things, that's a thought worth holding.
© 2008 Nan S. Russell. All Rights Reserved
Nan Russell left the corporate world in 2002 to pursue a life dream to work and write from the mountains of Montana. Today she is the award winning author of Hitting Your Stride, a syndicated columnist, motivational speaker, and the weekly radio host of "Work Matters with Nan Russell. More about Nan and her work at http://www.nanrussell.com/ or follow her insights and tips on twitter @nan_Russell