Commentary on My Propensity for People

My mother tells a story of me when I was a child. 

For the sake of time, I’ll just paste the story rather than rewrite it. This was written on November 22, 2010:

1989.

Tall like trees. Bodies danced at the margins of my world, filling the jungle with movement and life.

My mother strolled ahead. I was two at the time. We were in Saint Luis Obisbo California. My father was in the middle of a six month naval cruise somewhere in the middle of the Indian Ocean. Operation Desert Storm was underway.  Patty, my mothers best childhood friend, was visiting our new family from the east coast. They wandered through the public promenade and admired the Californian city scape while they caught up on life’s new details. My sister Jaclyn was strapped tightly to a toddler rook, hanging like a swollen sack from my mothers back. Her little arms protruded out to the sides and her tiny fingers grasped at the passing air. My mother latched onto my hand like a leash and led the way through the thicket of legs and knees that shuffled along the sidewalk. I stared at my shoes. My laces lashed back and forth as I toddled to keep pace. Gum smeared the cement. I looked up: the world was tall.

Suddenly there was a pause. I watched their lips move in parley as their eyes surveyed the storefronts for a potential lunch spot. I jerked my hand away: I wanted freedom. I stared at my flopping laces and continued walking without thought to where I was going.

“Michael!” My mother called me; her voice was piqued with concern. “Get back here Michael. You need to stand near me. There are strangers here.”

I looked up and found her eyes peering at me. Bodies bustled about. Conversations echoed near and far. On nearby benches sat individuals, some propped and alert, others slumped and sluggish, all with a distant look in their eyes; their minds absorbed in contemplation.

“There are no strangers here. There are only people.” I looked at her curiously, blinking. A smile warmed her face.

This is just one illustration of how I never seemed to see differences in people, even from a young age. My mother says I never knew a stranger, and I have no fear. I’d walk up to anyone and strike up a conversation, even as a toddler, up until present day. 

The thing is, my mother is very much like this. From my earliest memories, I would watch her just start talking to anyone, like she knew them. I never knew how much I appreciated the influence I had on me until I was older and reflected back. She’d just start talking to someone, as if they were resuming a conversation, and the person would just seem to talk right back. In the grocery store line. In the store. On the street. She’d ask them a question, say about a product she was looking at, or directions, or even a question about something that she just assumed maybe they could help her out with, or compliment them, like their hair or shoes or clothing or makeup, or share something she thought was funny. The amazing part was how people responded. She’s an attractive woman, and she’s very disarming. She smiles, and she possess a genuine interest and curiosity in people. She has a way of making you feel very special. 

My mother owns a high end boutique salon, and she does hair, and every single one of her clients tell me how special she is to them. She tells me, “Michael, people don’t come to me to do their hair. They come to me to feel better about themselves. My job is to make people feel better about themselves. When you look better, you feel better. But it is much more than that.”

I have to give her credit, she’s an excellent cosmetologist, and has really good taste, and an eye for detail, but her ability to give people her full attention is what makes people really feel good, and come and see her way more often than necessary, and pay her way more than she charges.

There was a story that I read once about British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli that illustrated what an impression you can make on someone if you’re interested in others: A young lady was taken to dinner one evening by Gladstone and the following evening by Disraeli. Asked what impressions these two celebrated men had made upon her, she replied, “When I left the dining room after sitting next to Mr. Gladstone, I thought he was the cleverest man in England. But after sitting next to Mr. Disraeli, I thought I was the cleverest woman in England.”

I always thought my mother had a knack for doing just this. 

I like to believe that she rubbed off on me, in a small way. 

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