One of my father’s most precious, lasting gifts was his beautiful maxim on living a meaningful life. His motto on meaningful living was “To be of genuine significance to another person.” I got goosebumps and was speechless the first time he shared these words with me. How incredibly beautiful and true. I resonate so deeply with this aspiration. After all, what could be more important than connecting with and impacting another person in a meaningful way? This was an epiphany my father had in his 80’s. I’m not sure if it was a result of soul searching after a fully lived life, or a spontaneous realization. Either way, he was undeniably of genuine significance to innumerable people during his long life as a social worker, lawyer, judge, advocate, husband, father and grandfather.
I thought of this maxim recently during a talk I heard about the “angels” in our lives. The reference was not to Biblical-type angels, but to people who appear in our lives “magically” exactly when we need them most. Angels can be a friend who spontaneously calls when you’re feeling lonely, a stranger who smiles at you when you are feeling unseen, or the nurse who lovingly cared for a loved one when you could not be at his side. Angels are always of genuine significance, even if it’s just for a moment.
One of my angels was a health aid named RJ who aided my father during his waning weeks. RJ arrived at the house at 7am and helped dad get cleaned up and dressed. One morning, as I was rousing from sleep in a nearby room, I overheard RJ say, “Good morning Judge.” Dad replied, “Good morning, who is here today?” “It’s me Judge, RJ,” she replied. “Ahhhhh, RJ, you’re the best. Just the best” was my dad’s response. I smiled widely hearing this exchange. RJ was kind, attentive, and incredibly competent. When RJ was around, my brothers and I breathed more easily, knowing dad was in amazing hands. Though I only knew RJ for a few weeks, she became an indelible part of my dad’s life and death. She was one of my and my dad’s angels and was absolutely of genuine significance.
Several angels have come and touched my life. Sometimes it’s a fleeting exchange, and other times, a lasting relationship. A few days after my mom unexpectedly passed, I had to buy a dress for the funeral. When I came out of the shop, I was so disoriented that I couldn’t find my car. I just stood there in a daze, with tears in my eyes, until a kind woman asked if I needed help. When I told her what was going on, she said, “Aw baby, I know what it’s like to lose a mama. That’s hard. Can I give you a hug and then we’ll find your car?” That lovely woman, indeed an angel to me, will never know what her words and warmth did for me in that moment. And a few months ago, when I had to unexpectedly catch a flight to New Orleans in a matter of hours, one of my current angels not only gave me a N25 mask but also a packed a bag of food for me to take on the airplane and checked in on my regularly. I am so deeply grateful for my angels, past and present.
Just as we have been the recipients of angels, we have all been angels to others at some point, likely unbeknownst to us. And I don’t mean in huge ways. We never know how much a smile and hello impacts someone, how attentively listening to someone can ease her pain, or how a few words of reassurance can soothe a soul.
Last week I interviewed a childhood friend for my research. Since the beginning of Covid, she regularly texts and calls friends who live alone; she checks in on them and assures them that they are not forgotten. She has no ulterior motive; she simply has the time and is grateful for her lot. That is angelic. And I guarantee she is of genuine significance to them.
To me, being of significance means that was see the other person deeply. It’s when our heart connects with another’s heart. It’s when compassion and kindness are the centerpiece of the connection. And when that happens, it is deeply meaningful to both parties. I wish us a life full of genuine significant connections with other people.
This blog is dedicated to my late father, Judge Sol Gothard, who would have turned 90 on November 1 and his amazing aid RJ.