Wednesday, February 18, 2009

First Impressions and Lasting Ones

We see so many people in the course of a month. Some just fly by on the freeway, others share an elevator. Circumstances may cause us to spend a little more time with folks who were formerly strangers. How we handle those events makes a lasting effect on us, and on them. Common experiences unite us, forming instant bonds.

We’ve seen the passengers and crew of the “Miracle on the Hudson” plane crash many times during the past few weeks. Those survivors plan to keep in touch. They bonded because of the fear, then relief and joy they all felt when the absolutely fabulous pilot and crew quite literally made it possible for them to rejoin their families after that flight.

Once, I made such a vow after serving on a jury for a few days. The common experience we shared and the intense discussion while coming to a very important decision made us feel very close to each other for three long days. I never got in touch with any of them afterwards, though we exchanged phone numbers. Perhaps we were all relieved to resume our normal lives, and never felt the need to relive the tension of that time.

Sometimes, a long wait generates strange bonds. While waiting in a hospital emergency room recently, I became acquainted with a young girl who was facing a rough day very bravely. Her family group included her mom, a brother, and a dad who was waiting to see the doctor. The brother was quite literally a handful for their mom, but this little girl was content to watch a DVD on her portable player. I admired her patience, and felt she was probably used to not being the center of attention. As time wore on, her mom brought each of them a bag of cookies, and the little girl had a catastrophe of sorts when the bag opened with a pop, spewing cookies all over her little lap. I offered an empty Ziploc bag from my purse to help her organize them, and her smiling mom thanked me. The little girl moved over to sit beside me so that I could watch the video with her, and a friendship was formed. If I never see this family again, at least we all faced that day with a little bit calmer attitude.

We need to be careful of the impressions we leave with those we come in contact with. Especially if that person has a very good memory. I’m recalling an incident that happened when our former president was governor of Arkansas. Like many State employees, I had become very comfortable in our State’s Capitol building. I often walked over to eat lunch, cash a check, mail a letter. One day when the legislature was not in session, and the halls were unusually quiet, I was whistling as I walked through the first floor rotunda. Unfortunately, the building was not as empty as it seemed. As I rounded a turn, I found myself facing a phalanx of TV lights, and reporters with microphones. Governor Clinton was answering questions, and I was trying to become invisible as quickly as possible. I reassured myself with the probability that I would never be that close to him again, and he would forget all about the interruption. Still a little red-faced, I was walking through the cafeteria line when I noticed the person behind me getting a lot of attention from the servers. You’re way ahead of me. Of course, it was Himself, trying to decide between chicken fried steak and roast beef. I took a deep breath, and said “I’m really sorry about what happened a little bit ago. I hope I didn’t cause you any problem.” He flashed that famous smile and said, “No, that was a whole lot more fun than what they were asking me about.” Besides his smile, this man is famous for never forgetting a face. So, whenever I passed him after that, he’d always wave, and chuckle a little. I guess the impression I left continued to entertain. Glad to be of service, Mr. President.

When we have maintained a relationship for a long period of time, we often look back to remember our first encounter with that person. When I moved here from Kansas as a senior in High School, my sister was my only friend. We quickly bonded with a small group who were members of the school’s band. As we waited to enter the school building each morning, a tall, very friendly young man often waited with us. I thought his name, Carlisle, was unusual, but then, not being from around here, I was in no place to judge. He always made us smile, and I found myself entering the school by that same door each time, hoping he would be there. Soon, I learned that Carlisle was his last name, not his first, but the polite good humor continued. When he learned I was headed to shorthand class, he would pull one of his arms up a little, and caution me not to come out looking lop-sided. It took all year, but he finally asked me to the senior prom, and the rest is history.

The moral to all this rambling? Be careful of first impressions. As the Bible says, we might be entertaining angels (or future presidents, or future spouses) unaware!