By Alex Lazarus-Klein
The late, great Buffalonian Tim Russert once wrote: “small moments? It is often those little gestures – a knowing look, a pat on the back, an unexpected kindness – that make a big impression … ”
These moments often go unnoticed and underappreciated; the countless times every day, where one person gives a little of themselves to make our day better.
I think of my trip to the local Dunkin’ Donuts, where the drive-thru teller, a hip African-American gentleman, always greets me with the biggest smile. In all my time in Western New York, I have never seen him unhappy. I would go there even I were not ordering coffee.
Or, how about at CVS, where the delightful woman at the counter always knows my name, and even my birthday. She seems to have my prescription ready even before I have to ask for it.
Speaking of pharmacies, I so appreciate the older cashier at the Walgreens down the street, who reminds me about what pharmacies used to be like before they became corporate. He takes time to talk to every customer, genuinely interested in their lives.
Then there is the thoughtful woman who works in the babysitting room at Wegmans who always asks about my kids, even the one who has aged out of being able to use the room.
These are people who I may see only briefly, but who make a real difference in my life.
There are others who I know better, who I may use for one specific service, but provide so much more meaning in my life. People like, John, my chiropractor who I can chat with about sports while he is adjusting my back. Or Gabe my hairstylist, who I can have a deep intellectual conversation with about music and life as he snips at my curls. Or Nancy in my office, who seems to complete an assignment even before I have assigned it to her, never complaining about anything.
I want to tell all these people, and so many more, how much better my life is because of them.
Each interaction we have with any given person has the capacity of making an impact. It all adds up. I have come to realize that meaning has nothing to do with salary or status. It has to do with the good we put out into the world. I am inspired by the many people I come in contact with who understand this in their kishkes (Jewish for intestines).
As a rabbi, I used to look at things like synagogue membership or communal awards, as markers of professional success. I have come to realize that I can make so much more of a difference in the small moments than I can in the large ones, the private ones, as opposed to those in the public eye.
I am privileged to be there at times when people are most vulnerable, when they are sick and alone, when they have just faced a loss. I take this responsibility very seriously and know how much is at stake. A little bit of kindness can go a long way.
When I see someone struggling, I try to do my part to alleviate their pain. By paying attention to those around me, by treating everybody with the respect they deserve, I hope to pass on the kindness given to me by others. It is, after all, the way I would want to be treated myself.
So, next time you have an opportunity to go the extra mile for someone, do it. As Russert wrote, it is the small moments that make a big impression.
Alex Lazarus-Klein is the rabbi of Congregation Shir Shalom in Williamsville.