One Valentine’s Day, my husband, Ron, was scheduled for a management training in our town in the Netherlands. I knew the building where he’d be training. And I even knew the meeting room, on the second floor with big windows overlooking the street. So I biked into the center of town, stood across the busy street, held up my handmade cardboard sign, and waited.
After twenty minutes, there was finally movement behind the blinds, and the training participants began to peer out. Eventually, there was Ron, bursting out the entrance doors, running across the street, scooping me into his arms, and kissing me. What was on the sign?
“HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY, MY GREAT LOVE!”
There were moments while I waited that I felt like a fool. Standing there for twenty minutes of gawking drivers! Why did I do it? Because it doesn’t take much to inspire a person in a more beautiful direction. And it just seemed worth the effort, to give Ron a moment he would never forget.
A basic need to love.
There are common denominators that all seven billion of us seem to share. We’re powerful, creative beings. And we have a natural desire and need to love and be loved.
In my 20s, when I worked in a school for children with special needs, there was a volunteer program for “foster grandparents” in place. Every morning, these elderly men and women showed up in the classrooms to help, by reading to the kids, or helping them eat, or just rocking them when they needed it.
They were retirement age, so they could’ve been playing golf, traveling or even at home watching TV. Instead, they were making a difference and reveling in each child’s success, from the deaf-blind teen who learned to communicate his needs, to the mentally disabled 24-year-old who learned to use a toilet for the first time.
These fabulous people, wizened by life-experience, were energetic, dedicated and hilariously funny. And they were often still standing strongly at the end of the day when we staff members had collapsed in the teacher’s lounge.
And that’s what life is about. Will someone’s life be better because we were here, because of the way we contribute? It’s the choice between walking into a room and saying, “Here I am,” or walking into a room and saying, “There you are!”
Making life count.
Ron’s daughter recently received her master’s degree in the Netherlands. She spent months in her student rooms writing her thesis on Europe’s refugee crisis, comparing the decades-long policy of welcoming immigrants hospitably with the current dilemma of “how much is too many.”
At her graduation ceremony, she presented her case with charisma and conviction. She should use the video in her job search. She wants to work in the nonprofit sector, and is pursuing an NGO position.
In the meantime, she recently began volunteering with a group called Refugees Welcome Amsterdam. They spend 6-hour shifts at Amsterdam’s Central Station, meeting the arriving trains. They’re looking for the refugees, in a reverse type of profiling. The goal is to offer them a welcome smile and a cup of tea, plus a lead on a place to spend the night, before they move on the next day.
She sat at our dinner table recently and described her experience. She said that she was searching the faces, looking at the clothes and the baggage, or the lack of it. And she saw two men with a small boy getting off a train. She approached them and tried to communicate. Like most Dutch people, she speaks several languages, but she wasn’t having success. So she called over a Syrian volunteer, and he spoke to them in their native language.
She described what happened next as “amazing.” As we watched her tell the story, we would say it was “life-changing,” for her.
She said that a transformation came over the two men, which she found humbling to witness. The Syrian volunteer offered the young boy a cup of juice. And the men’s apprehension and fear – a raw terror that most of us will never know – fell away. And it was replaced by relief, because they knew, at least in that moment, they were safe.
The world needs more up-lifters.
We all have an inner driver that pushes us to be an up-lifter, to be a creator of positive change. And opportunities are everywhere. Everyone we encounter would like to hear us say, “The world is nicer because you’re here. You’re wonderful, and I’m glad I know you.”
Studies show that people who “do good” for others live longer, healthier, happier lives. And when we support people by reveling in their success, we feel better.
Jean Houston said, “We all have the extraordinary coded within us, waiting to be released.” So it’s important, every now and then, to step outside what’s comfortable and familiar, and to take an action that uplifts someone – to dig deep for our extraordinary and to release it.
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