The Smell of Fear

 

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Sometimes you just don’t know. Sometimes we go through life doing our best, working hard to make a difference (not only in our lives but those around us) and we just don’t know if we are. It’s like a bad driver careening out of control down the road unaware of the carnage going on in his rear-view mirror. Eyes focused on the road ahead, but completely oblivious to the damage done. Later, watching the evening news about a car driven by a reckless driver he says “wow, I drove right through there just before all that happened.”

I’m not saying I’m a bad driver. I’m talking about whether saying hello to someone while walking down the sidewalk, letting someone ahead of you in line or just listening to someone go on and on about the turmoil in their life actually makes a difference to them. Once the brief encounter is over and you both go your separate ways, was a difference made? Good? Bad? All I can do is be who I am and if the goal is to make a difference at that moment then I’ll know I did my best. I don’t know the back-story of everyone I come in contact with, but everyone has a story. Who am I to think I can completely understand their lifetime in just a few moments? Hell, I have a hard enough time understanding my own let alone someone else.

But it’s not about understanding where someone comes from or how their life differs from ours. It’s about the effort put forth to make a difference from this moment on. Listen. Smile. Hold out a hand or open a door. Making someone’s whole day might take just a second of your time, so why wouldn’t we do that? Sounds easy, but are we too wrapped up in our own little world to see the world around us? For whatever reason, perfect strangers will tell me just about anything. I’m not sure if I suffer from “Nice Guy Syndrome” or if it’s because I’m willing to engage in conversation. I’ve tried to understand what possesses someone to veer out of the light conversation we were having into a much deeper subject. At this point we might want to have a proper introduction. For reasons unknown to me, they feel it necessary to say what’s on their mind or what’s going on in their life. It must be my great ability to listen, show the proper facial expressions and nod my head. Just as the old saying goes that bees smell fear, I think people can just smell I’m a good listener.

As we move about our daily routines, it’s only a matter of time that something we say or do (intentional or not) will have an impact on someone around us. For those who know us, what we say or do won’t necessarily be a surprise. For everyone else we may never know. I wish it was as simple as watching the evening news to find out if the damage behind me was caused by yours truly. Although, I do check my mirrors regularly.

 

Dropping Anchor in San Diego Bay

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If there is one thing I truly enjoy, it would be meeting new people. Recently while flying to San Diego California for a motorcycle dealer show (my first trip to California), I sat next to a gentleman who, quite obviously was traveling for business as well, wearing a suit jacket and slacks. In my line of work, business casual is just that – minus the business. Blue jeans, tennis shoes and a work shirt are sufficient and from the untrained eye it would appear I was just an average guy on a plane. Who am I kidding, I’m just average no matter how you dress me. As the flight took off from DFW we sat mostly silent in our seats. During the first few minutes of the flight we could over-hear two random passengers talking about airplanes, their history, books they’ve read and some museums they both have been to. What luck, I thought, that two guys from different corners of this country could find each other and have so much in common and be seated that close for the next couple of hours. I made the comment “sounds like they were made for each other” and my friend next to me said “yes, and it is very interesting to listen to.” I agreed, and now the ice was broken and our own conversation took off.

 And as we talked, I realized that we too, are from different corners of this country and in some random strategy that only the airlines can come up with, placed us right next to each other. He is from Atlanta and just recently moved there with his work. I am from a small town in Kansas with the apparent boat anchor tied to my ankle.

We talked about the usual – where are you headed, what do you do and where are you from – mixed with some smaller details of family, life and business. And as we talked, I realized that we too, are from different corners of this country and in some random strategy that only the airlines can come up with, placed us right next to each other. He is from Atlanta and just recently moved there with his work. I am from a small town in Kansas with the apparent boat anchor tied to my ankle. He oversees a national sales force with about 140 employees selling medical devices and I sell motorcycles to those who I hope will never need such medical devices. A common thread being my daughter Kelly has had the Harrington rods placed in her back from Scoliosis. He asked how, after all these years, she was doing with them, and I thought back to the days of when she was going through that. He talked of the challenges he has with his line of work, and I could fully relate.

As most conversations do, it turned to politics and family, social media and the likes, and how this world is changing right before our eyes. He spoke of his ten-year old son, Jackson, who has a great relationship with his grandmother, wants to have a little more responsibility at home, and how his two children and wife are why he does what he does. Losing time with family at home to travel to a meeting in San Diego is a sacrifice, but right now it’s what he needs to do. Work hard, and enjoy the moments you have when you get home. Originally from Texas, he said that having family nearby was great, and they still get there once a month or so to visit. I, on the other hand, have my folks right down the street and most of my family is close enough that it really isn’t that big of a deal.

A lot in common? Sure. Different? Not in a bad way. For a couple of hours I had a great conversation with someone who I could relate to. So often we sit and not say a word, when the individual sitting right next to us is so much like us, or better yet, so different from us that it will be interesting either way. The plane landed and we shook hands. I wished him well and safe travels as I would any of my closest friends, and he was gone. I would like to think in this great big world, that I left an impression on him. We often move about our day and don’t realize the impact we might have on someone, and he had an impact on me. I learned something about the business he is in and I would like to think he got off the plane and thought the same about me. I wonder if he noticed the mark around my ankle where the boat anchor used to be.