When I think back to what helped me in the hard times to endure or get through the day or week, little stories always come to mind, sometimes it’s just a picture.
It’s the little things that helped me and that I learned to notice. Encouraging pictures.
They are encounters with people who took or still take time for me. Courage people.
A friend who listens to me and takes me as I am; who comments humorously on my overnight messages – often confused and muddled – and who can put up with my quirks.
My sister, who asks me how I’m really doing when I’m “over it” and holds me in her arms until I can cry.
The saleswoman who greets me kindly and remembers that I forgot my umbrella yesterday.
A child who beams at me as I pass, even though I’m rushing down the street with a frown on my face.
My colleagues, who put up with my bad mood and secretly, quietly put a hot coffee on my desk.
My dentist, who grins mischievously as soon as she sees me because she knows how I’m about to swear.
My neighbor, who rings the doorbell and asks how I am, since she hasn’t seen me for a while now.
And not to forget my husband, who takes the crap out of my everyday life when I just can’t and says, “I’ll take care of it.”
I am always amazed at how friendly people can be towards me (not always and everywhere, of course) and what a smile, a hug, a sincerely well-intentioned word does to me. What it means when people encourage me. When people take five minutes of their time for me.
And me? What do I do for others?
I am often rushed and stressed, I chase deadlines and forget my private appointments. I stand up a friend here and don’t call back there because I forgot, I often don’t respond to a text or email until days later. Balancing work life and personal life, combined with my bipolar disorder, requires a great deal of discipline, but it also challenges me to be empathetic and attentive to others – and to encourage them.
There is an elderly lady who lives on our street who walks her wheeled cart into town every day to escape her four walls. She accosts everyone who crosses her path, and often enough I try to avoid her, especially in the morning, so as not to get involved in a conversation that goes on for ages. Until after a while I understood: she is lonely, she is looking for conversation, a brief moment with people. She lives alone and has no one waiting for her. So now I take the time to chat with her a little when I meet her and see a smile, a genuine one, when we say goodbye. Maybe then I have given her a little encouragement.
Many years ago, in one of Frankfurt’s gloomier pubs, I partied through the night with a homeless man that it cracked. He was sitting at the bar, no one to talk to. We talked and danced the night away. Turns out he was a philosopher, but he had missed the boat – and ended up on the street. We split the bill fraternally, and he wouldn’t let it go to waste. It was already sunrise when we said goodbye as he told me that he hadn’t spent such a nice evening for a long time. I guess: because finally someone listened to him, noticed him. I never saw him again after that, but I was glad that, except for the hangover in the morning, he took some courage that there were people who saw him.
A few years ago I met a former close friend from the wild old days. I loved this woman very much. But I had made a terrible mistake then that I will not stop to regret. Our contact broke off, and so we met after more than 20 years. And then suddenly she was standing in front of me: “Hello Tina.” We talked for days, it was like yesterday. We had so much to catch up on. We listened to each other. The night before she left, I cried. We knew we wouldn’t write or talk on the phone. But I drew on the courage she gave me for forgiving me, and I gave her the courage to trust that people can change; that I was sorry for my mistakes and would never do those things again.
Sometimes it was five minutes, sometimes it was a night, sometimes it was days and nights. But always those five minutes with a person are worth taking the time to be there: Here I am. I see you. We are now.
I think we should take more time for each other, even though we are in such a hurry, even though we could do everything with our cell phones, even though we don’t really have any time now:
For a cup of coffee with a friend who is looking for advice.
For the neighbor to carry the crates of drinks up to the second floor and accept his offer to come in for a moment.
For a conversation with the old lady on the street.
For the sad, tired salesman who is glad for a kind word.
For a word of advice to a colleague in crisis.
For a kind word to a friend in need.
For a silence with someone when all has been said.
Sometimes it’s just five minutes that are encouraging and can enrich our lives so much.
They cost us nothing and are priceless to others.