By Cheryl Rice
Navigating traffic to the mall, then fighting for space in a crowded store, had me in a grumpy mood. While waiting in the checkout line, I noticed the young woman at the register - she had short, spiky, lime-green hair, a nose ring, and funky purple glasses. But what stood out most was her radiant smile and the deliberate way she looked at customers as she rang up their purchases.
When we completed our transaction, I pulled out a business-sized card from my pocket, handed it to her, and said, "Thank you, this is for you." When she read the two words on the card her lower lip quivered and her eyes moistened. She placed the hand with the card over her heart and placed her other hand over her mouth, which opened wide with surprise. She didn't say a word.
Since many customers were waiting in line, all I could say was, "It's true you know. What the card says is true."
I walked into the store feeling like Scrooge, but I walked out feeling like Santa Claus.
The words on the card: "You Matter."
A few months earlier a colleague had given me a card with the same two words on it. I'll never forget the feeling of warmth that radiated through me when she looked me in the eyes as she placed the card in my hand. It was as if a long-buried question was suddenly answered.
I felt seen.
The feeling stayed with me long enough that I decided to order my own supply of You Matter cards. At first I was concerned that giving them out would conflict with the Black Lives Matter movement or the Blue Lives Matter movement - or even the All Lives Matter message. But as I started sharing the cards, I realized that people were not seeing a political statement, but rather a personal one. More importantly, they could establish quality connections - the kind that people crave.
Not everyone I gave a You Matter card to reacted as powerfully as the young woman in the store. Almost always the person's first reaction was to turn the card over to see what I was selling. Once they realized that there was no catch, they lowered their previously hunched shoulders and breathed in the message: You Matter. Not because of what you do, who you know, how big your bank account or your to-do list is, but just because you exist. It was a simple message with a profound impact.
Social scientists have taught us that we are social animals, hard wired to connect. Yet we are living in a time in which many people feel increasingly disconnected. We need to find ways to bridge our divides. Common courtesy is a start. Compassion is a start. But courtesy and compassion are not enough unless they are tied to action - purposeful overtures that validate the significance of others. And when we extend them, we validate our own significance.
I was so moved by the reaction of the young woman at the cash register that I returned to the store the next day to ask what she felt when she received the card. She told me she had been having a really bad time and the card touched her deeply. She said her hands shook for an hour, and when she got home she "cried it out." She asked if I had an extra card so she could offer it to a coworker who gave her food when she ran low at the end of the month. It was all I could do not to cry myself.
Typically I carry tissues in my winter coat pocket - now I also carry You Matter cards. I leave them on car windshields in parking lots, slip them in library books, and, of course, give them to people I meet. Sharing the cards has become a happy habit - one I will never break.
Since the election, some people are asking what they can do to make a meaningful difference in the world. As Anne Frank reminds us, "How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world."