What's Left Behind

January 24th, 2014

Several months ago, I wrote an article for The Wall Street Journal about the time the movie star Patricia Neal visited our house (where she had once lived, many decades ago). After it was published, I started to get emails from people I didn’t know who wanted to tell me that they, too, had had  the good fortune to meet Ms. Neal briefly, and that they would never forget the experience, because she had been so warm and expressive and kind.

I was thinking about those emails recently and it got me musing about life–because I like to muse about life and what the point of it all  is.

I have no idea what the point of it all is.

But I do sometimes feel like I get a glimpse into something I need to think  more about, and it seems to me that those emails about Ms. Neal provided one of those glimpses.

Wouldn’t it be nice to have people you barely even met remember you? Why not try to see every encounter, every phone call, every dashed-off email as a chance to make someone else’s life a little more pleasant, even if just for a moment or two?

I know it’s not something you can sustain all the time. We have our bad days and sometimes other people are just annoying. And there are important fights to be fought–you can’t and shouldn’t make nice with people who would like to beat your gay son  to a pulp. So I’m not preaching rainbows and puppy dogs or anything. Just . . . why not be kind when you can? Why not try to help someone who reaches out to you even if it’s not your problem? Why not smile when a stranger’s eyes happen to meet yours or say “No problem” when a barrista gets your order wrong? Why not talk to the person on the other end of the phone as if he or she is, in fact, a person?

Is this too saccharine? I swear I’m not the “group hug in a cuddle puddle!” type. I just think about the legacy that Pat Neal left–not the famous movie star legacy (although, man, she made some great ones–anyone see A Face in the Crowd?), but the one where a bunch of people all said “That one day of my life was better because I got to talk to her for five minutes.”

There are worse ways to be remembered.

And here I demonstrate the  meaning of the word "behind." This photo has no other relevance.

And here I demonstrate the meaning of the word “behind.” This photo has no other relevance.