“Look at all the sugar in these cereals,” the shrunken, old man pushing 90 said aloud in Aisle 9 at my local drugstore. As he reached for the Cheerios off the shelf, our eyes met. “I’m down to one teaspoon in my coffee, instead of three. Heck, during WWII I was happy if the coffee was even hot.” The man, I’d soon come to know as Frank, immediately wiped away a tear with the brush of his jacket sleeve. “I never used to cry, but I seem to cry all the time now.” “That’s healthy,” I replied with a big smile, “it means you’re human.” Frank returned the smile as he launched into a story about his service buddies. Glancing at the cold milk in my cart and lengthy holiday list in hand, I began to rehearse a graceful exit strategy. After all, I didn’t have a moment to spare. Ready to execute, I turned back towards Frank and got smacked with a feeling. One I didn’t see coming, but knew I must honor. In that awakened moment, I put away my list and said, “Tell me more about WWII.”
Time seemed to stop in Aisle 9 as Frank told me all about his war experience and being part of the largest land battle ever fought by our country – the Battle of the Bulge. “Do you know there were over 70,000 American casualties during that battle alone?” “Yes, I do.” I replied. “My Dad was captured in that Battle and became a Prisoner of War in Stalag 11B.”
Frank’s eyes were alert when I shared the story of how Dad’s frozen feet, rather than being amputated, were saved thanks to the connection he made with a German cook’s young son during his brief hospital stay. The 10-year-old boy, who wanted to learn English, was drawn to my Dad’s genuine smile, warmth, and kindness. Following a day of lessons, he brought Dad a bottle of schnapps to show his appreciation. Dad drank the liquor, massaged his feet all night through the intense pain, and regained enough circulation to prevent the operation the following morning. Frank chuckled when I shared how Dad ended up playing professional football for the Detroit Lions and Philadelphia Eagles with those same feet!
When the conversation came to a natural close, Frank smiled, put out his hand, pulled me into a hug, and whispered “Thank you for taking time to talk with me.” “It was my pleasure and honor,” I whispered back. And I meant it. As I held this sweet, dear man in my arms, I could feel his body gently shake as he can no longer hold back tears.
My own eyes misted as I felt the power of Dad’s lesson of kindness and warmth play out in my life. This time it wasn’t a little boy and a bottle of schnapps in a war hospital, but an overwhelmed, working mom with a shrunken old man in Aisle 9. But the lesson remained the same. The power of connection through a genuine smile. The magic in an unexpected place. A moment I almost missed because I didn’t have time to waste.
This holiday season, remember the greatest gift you can give another is your presence and time. No wrapping required.
Colette Carlson is a human behavior expert and CPAE Hall of Fame Motivational Keynote Speaker who inspires organizations and individuals to connect and communicate in real and relevant ways. With wit, humor and sincerity, each of Colette’s experiences weaves together real-life lessons on genuine connection and the tools to leverage those connections for personal and professional success. Book Colette for your next event: https://bit.ly/2s9CY1B