All of us know a person or two who just seems a bit… different than the rest of us.
C.S. Lewis describes them this way: “Their very voices and faces are different from ours: stronger, quieter, happier, more radiant. You tend to think that you are being kind to them when they are really being kind to you. They will usually seem to have a lot of time: you will wonder where it comes from.”
They’re the people in our lives who, in David Brooks’s words, “make us feel funnier and smarter when (we) speak with them,” who “perform acts of sacrificial service in the same modest everyday spirit they would display if they were just getting groceries,” who “just seem delighted by the flawed people around them.” They seem to be at peace with themselves, and with the world.
I imagine all of us know a person or two like this. They may be a loved one close to us, or pop into our lives from time to time. My best shortcut for identifying them has become how I feel after talking with them: I’m usually thoroughly impressed with myself, and only later realize that that feeling wasn’t really me at all.
For example, when I was in grad school, I attended a lecture by a visiting leader, a man who was near the very top of his globally-influential organization. After his lecture, he stood down near the podium, waiting patiently as audience members chatted with each other.
Seeing an opportunity to shake his hand and thank him, I approached. He turned to me and, call me dramatic but, I could have sworn his eyes literally twinkled when he looked into mine.
As we spoke, the conversation immediately and naturally turned to me, without my noticing: what I was doing there, where I was from, how I liked it. His interest in me was genuine, and I felt more articulate and confident than I nearly ever do in casual conversation. He seemed impressed with me; I felt impressed with me. After a few minutes, we parted warmly.
As I returned home, I was walking on air. “Wow,” I thought. “I have got it together!” I even told my wife about how well I had handled my interaction with such an important person.
It dawned on me only later that the confidence, poise and comfort I had felt had nothing to do with me. Somehow, it had leaked out of him and changed me in that moment. It was as if he walked around exuding a bubble of… well, love, I guess, that changed the people near to him.
How do I know? Well, because the new and improved me was simply gone afterward. Until the next time I met one of those people.
A humble request
I’m gathering stories about these people, and I want to share those stories.
More deeply, I want to figure out how these people became who they are, and share what I find.
I have a simple ask for you: please tell me about a person or people you know who come to mind as you read this. Who are they? Why do they fit that description? What meaningful experiences have you shared with them?
Please fill out the form below to share your story. It can be as long or short as you like. If you don’t hear from me right away, I promise I’ll get to it and respond as soon as I can.
(If you feel so inclined, I’d also be grateful if you shared the post using the Facebook button at the top of the post on mobile, or on the left on desktop.)