Last Sunday, I learned a very important lesson while attending an event with my 4-year-old daughter, Adi.
At the event there were many engaging activities for children, including a pet farm, bouncing houses, a mini carousel, and face-painting. Adi lit up when she saw all her options and was especially eager to get a unicorn painted on her face. My focus, like many parents there I’m sure, was simply to let my child have fun with her friends, mingle with the other parents there, and enjoy the warm sunny beautiful day outside.
After going to the pet farm and petting animals including a goat, a turtle, and even a pig, Adi was super excited to ride the pony. I cheerfully said hello to the instructor, noticing that he barely made eye contact or acknowledged our presence, and asked him to please help me lift Adi onto the horse. He told us that the horse was named Besty. I then asked the young man a question that seemed totally logical to me but clearly was not what he expected. “What’s your name?” I asked.
He looked at me surprised and said, “My name is Justin. You know you are the only person this entire day who has asked me that question. I’m just a simple man. The real thrill is the pony.” I smiled and told him our names as he proceeded to walk Besty the horse with my daughter Adi proudly sitting on the saddle.
I don’t share this story to toot my own horn in any way, but rather just the opposite. Justin’s reaction made me think of all the countless times I probably didn’t ask someone their name and probably should have taken the extra second to do so. I thought about all the names I didn’t know including the mail woman who comes to our home daily and the man who brings us Kentwood Springs water every other week and often has to ring our bell because we forgot to put the empty bottles outside.
Like many, I try to warm to all people that I meet, but realized at that moment that being friendly wasn’t always enough. Justin seemed to be telling me that when you ask someone their name you acknowledge their very presence. He was sharing with me, in few words, that he was feeling somewhat invisible in the crowd of people that day. It made sense to me why he hardly noticed us or looked at us when we first approached him. Perhaps he was already somewhat hurt or feeling that existential aloneness people sometimes experience when we don’t think anyone notices us, cares about who we are, and what we are doing. It actually brought back some painful childhood memories of times at parties or even sleepaway camp when I felt like I was the only who knew I was there. Everyone wants to feel noticed.
When Adi was done ridng Besty, we thanked Justin and went on line so Adi could get her face painted before the day was over. We thanked him for a fun pony ride of course. But ultimately I hope Justin realizes the gift he really gave us that day.