by Alan Cohen
How much is a kind word worth? How deeply can a touch heal? How important are your little interactions with your family, friends, and clients?
Hairdresser David Wagner learned these answers from a customer who came to him regularly every month. One day she phoned David in between her regular visits and asked if he would style her hair for an important event that evening. David fit her into his schedule and gave her his usual loving attention. He talked amiably with her, laughed, touched her kindly, and told her how beautiful she looked. After her session, she smiled and thanked him.
You can imagine David’s shock when a few days later he received a handwritten letter from the woman explaining that the important event she wanted to look good for that evening was her own funeral. She had planned to commit suicide later that day. When she spent time with David, however, the kindness he showed her influenced her to change her mind. She decided that life was worth living, and she could go on.
This extraordinary feedback inspired David to reconsider what he was doing with his work and his life. He realized that his purpose with customers went far beyond cutting hair. Within his own sphere of influence he had the power to make people’s days - and even lives. So he adopted the vocation of “Daymaker.” Now, as owner of ten successful spas that treat thousands of people each day, David teaches his employees to see themselves as daymakers. His inspiring book Life as a Daymaker chronicles his adventures and techniques.
Never underestimate the power of a kind word or thought. It may affect one or many, many people without you even knowing it. Even a gentle touch can make a huge difference. My friend Rick Jarrow was participating in an intensive Zen meditation retreat that required him to meditate many hours a day in rigorous conditions. One morning Rick decided this was just too hard, and he would leave the retreat after the morning silent walking meditation practice. During the walk, a student behind Rick gently placed his hand on Rick’s shoulder. “In that touch,” Rick told me, “I felt totally comforted and encouraged. It was as if my friend was saying, ‘I know this is hard for you. I believe in you. You have what it takes to do this.’ So I decided to stay, and I went on to gain tremendous strength from that retreat. That touch was the turning point.”
You don’t even need to speak or touch someone to help them. You can serve simply by the energy of your being. Emerson noted, “Who you are speaks to me so loudly that I can hardly hear what you are saying.” Indeed at every moment we radiate empowerment or discouragement simply by the feelings we dwell in.
One day while I was standing in line at a deli counter, I noticed a woman in a line beside mine. She kept looking at me as if she knew me. I didn’t recognize her, so I just kept moving ahead. When we finally arrived at the counter at the same time, the woman turned to me and asked, “Why are you so happy?” Her question took me by surprise. I wasn’t thinking about being happy or even trying. “I guess I’m just glad to be here and alive,” I answered. “How about you?” I asked her. “How is your day going?”
She thought for a moment and then answered, “Well, it wasn’t going so well. But now that I saw you, I feel a lot better.” With that, we both smiled and went on our ways. As I thought more about her comment, I realized it was the most meaningful compliment I could ever receive. Just being was healing.
I have experienced such healing simply by seeing a peaceful person for a moment. One day I was rushing through an airport when I noticed a man who looked unusually serene. His face was soft, his gait was light, and his demeanor felt comforting. In that moment my energy shifted from anxious hurry to deep peace. Though he will never know it, he taught me that airports are not necessarily stressful. Stressful thoughts are more dangerous than airports. If we choose healing thoughts, we become a beacon of peace in apparently dense or dark places.
A friend went to pick up a revered rabbi from the airport. As the two drove toward the tollbooths to exit the airport parking lot, my friend had to choose between an automatic payment lane and a lane manned by an attendant. “Take the lane where you pay a person,” the rabbi urged him. “Why is that?” asked my friend. “Because any opportunity to make contact with another human being is a blessing from God,” answered the rabbi.
In this light, every one of our interactions is a prayer. There are no chance encounters and no small meetings. Everyone we meet is sent to us by God for a noble purpose. Every relationship, no matter how brief, is an invitation to connect. As we remember to keep love first, we have our priorities in order and we might even save someone’s life - beginning with our own.