The words were simple: “I’m sorry to hear about your father.” But for a young girl, they had an impact that spanned decades.
I was sixteen years old and sitting at a bar. (Don’t ask, it was the 70’s in New York). A boy from my high school—one of the cool kids, someone who barely talked to me otherwise—came over to me and said “Hey, I’m sorry to hear about your father. I just wanted to tell you that.” His name was Tom B. He sat down and talked with me for a while. I don’t remember another thing he said that night. But I remember that he was the only one of my high school class besides my closest friends to make an effort to say, “Hey. I’m sure what you are going through is hard.” We talked for an hour, two, and then he left, I left, and we never saw each other again.
In fact, I didn’t see any of my high school friends again, I want to college miles away, and muddled through life as best I could for many years. This was years before the internet, or cell phones or Facebook or Instagram or anything. A conversation on the bar stool was about all the connection you had.
Until this year or last year when I slowly started re-connecting with a few people from my high school. I somehow got on a very analog-seeming email list—one person from my school took it upon themselves to email out news of births and deaths and goings on of my graduating class.
One of those emails informed me that Tom B’s father had just died. And of course, since his words were ones I still remembered all these decades later, I dropped everything I was doing, emailed him and said, “I’m sorry to hear about your father.”
And I told him how much it meant to me that he had come over and said those words all those years ago. How the fact that he had taken the time to sit down and talk to me meant something to me, and it was something I had never forgotten. And how every time someone I didn’t know very well experienced a death of someone close, I would drop everything to say, “I’m sorry to hear about your loss.” Because I never know the one time those words might be important.
Tom B. and I have since connected over a lot of happier moments, along with some sad ones, through the magic Facebook. I always look forward to what he has to say. We still haven’t seen each other or spoken to each other in person since that moment just after graduating high school. It’s a virtual connection that is one of the hundreds of thousands of connections that are now a part of the fabric of my life. But the connection is meaningful because it means something to both of us.
What words can you say today that someone might remember 35 years from now?
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Photo: Yevy Photography / flickr