“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
This is the kind of benevolent platitude that I typically shy away from when I see it posted on social media, usually because it implies a kind of distasteful virtue signaling on the part of the poster. But I came across the quote above the other day and thought, “Hm.”
How do I make people feel, I wonder?
One of my favorite elements of our September book club pick (full review + discussion questions coming tomorrow) is the way Mirza subtly reveals how our loved ones can occasionally know us better than we know ourselves. In one passage, the long-time object of Amar’s affection comments: “…I knew you from when you came over and I’d liked you for years. How you were good in a way unseen to them, to yourself, even.” The notion that someone might apprehend something about you that is “unseen to yourself even” reminded me of the time my sister tucked a note into my suitcase when I was first leaving for France. It was long and hysterical and it made me snort with laughter, distracting me from the homesickness already throbbing inside–and it occurred to me how she’d known what I’d need well before I had: a vestige of home, a familiar voice when I was feeling alone. And then there was a time when my mother casually explained the difference between my brother and I when it came to academics. We were both high performers, and, one evening, while packing lunches and praising us both on our report cards, she commented: “You know, Tommy needs to crush everything — to master what he’s learning and completely dominate the topic so that there’s nothing left he can’t know. You, on the other hand, you need to sit in a topic, wrap your whole mind around it, and finesse what you’re learning.” I’ll never forget those visuals, or the lowkey observational brilliance she displayed in communicating them to me. The conversation forever shaped how I perceived my own epistemology, my movements and patterns as a student absorbing the world around me. And how true it was, too — it was never enough for me to simply recite the fact or state the date. I also needed to be able to put it in context, explain the theory behind it, grasp where and how that fact or that theorem had come to be. My mother had quietly observed these truths and shared them unassumingly while slathering peanut butter across five pieces of wheat bread. Ho hum, she seemed to say, I see everything about you, even the things you don’t see in yourself.
But, more pressingly apropos of the question above — how do I make people feel? — I recall a recent conversation with my father in which he told me that, as a mother, I “ran cool.” I will forever cleave to this compliment, though I’m sure it was not intended as such. I’m certain my father expected me to nod with self-awareness: ah, yes. I do run cool. But it came as a surprise to me, this appraisal. And I remember studying myself in my daily interactions with mini for the next few days: Is this what running cool means? What would the alternate reactions be? What did I do to earn the status of “running cool”?
And so I similarly puzzle over how I might make people feel. If I was unable to see myself as a mother of equanimity before it was pointed out to me, I am at a loss in this regard. But I can tell you this: the query has led me to be more intentional in my interactions with others, as I know how I would like to make people feel.
I hope that when people remember me, they think: “She was kind. She listened.”
I don’t want to be called “nice” or “agreeable” — too bland — and I already know I am too far afield from a more laudable designation like “She was a woman for others.” (I’ll leave that accolade for my deserving sister.) I’m sure many would love to be remembered as “full of life and energy” or “never far from a laugh” or “of the strongest morals and values” or “the most adventurous spirit.” These are lovely tributes all, but they aren’t me.
Me? I’d like my legacy to be one of kindness and empathy. A snapshot of sisterliness. And so I must get to work achieving that impression, an imperative that has made me highly aware of my daily interactions — with the porter who carries our trash down for us (God bless him); with the cashier at the bakery around the corner, who always greets me with a “good morning, mama”; with the gruff receptionist at the doctor’s office. I’d like them all to think: she listened; she cared.
What about you? What would you like your legacy to be?
+I have a couple of events coming up that require a more sophisticated, conservative look. I am majorly swooning over this Reiss dress, which I saw in the window of their shop and stared at. I’d love to wear it with my ivory rockstud flats. Certain styles of the rockstuds feel a little passe but I still love these flats. They are elegant and edgy and they go with everything.
+I’m not normally into the bodycon fit and flare dress, but that Reiss number completely whet my appetite for the style and left me looking longingly at this Missoni (with black flats and a low bun?!) and this oversized bow dress. Who am I?! Will I also started wearing gold hoop earrings?! But they’re REALLY good.
+This Hunting Season bag just shot to the top of my lust list. It’s like a little sister to the iconic Hermes Constance bag!
+These are AMAZING shoes for a fall wardrobe, and at a decent price. The shape is evocative of Celine, and the colorway is perfect for coordinating with all things glen plaid. (Also — your complete guide to the ultimate fall 2018 wardrobe.)
+Love this $50 paisley dress, and even the way they’ve styled it: with those slouchy black boots!
+This cashmere sweater in the ice blue is in my cart RN.
+This book is a little close to the self-improvement category of literature that I typically avoid, but…it’s gotten good reviews and my curiosity is piqued.
+This media cabinet is SO CHIC! (And well-priced?!?!)
+I have been such a big fan of all of Ole Henriksen’s products that I’m giving their eye cream a try, too.
+I’ve been in the market for a new brow styler, and this one gets rave reviews. Any one else tried this?! It’s in my cart…