I thought of you the other day. It’s not like I don’t normally think of you, but I couldn’t stop thinking about you yesterday because of something that someone said to me. I don’t know where you are, but I know that you’re listening. After all, every single time the N train enters the tunnel, I talk to you. It’s a little ritual that I’ve carried on for two years.
I know I didn’t go with the family to visit you the other day. Let me tell you something: I was out that day with kimchi girl. Do you remember her? That’s not her name, but you don’t know her real name. After all, you were never properly introduced. I really wish I had tried though. It’s the one thing I’ve ever regretted – that I never introduced you to her because you would be happy. Happy that at least I know what to do with my heart and know where to put it – in nothing but the best. But I do remember this: I remember you calling her the kimchi girl. You were still semi-coherent at that point, but you lectured me about her and you just wouldn’t stop. You kept telling me to write a book about you and telling me how to treat a lady. You tried so hard to tell me how to treat a lady: that I should always respect her, that I should always support her, and that I should never lie. I didn’t have the heart to tell you that no, she was not “my” lady. Not even close. I didn’t have the heart to tell you that kimchi girl, in all likelihood would never be “my” lady. Maybe in my dream world she could be, but in that world I would also be everything else she was looking for. So I played along, giving you false hope I suppose. I kept my mouth shut and didn’t deny anything. I’m never going to forget that.
Ma, let me tell you a story and I hope that you’re proud of me. Proud that even though I decided to walk my own path and not become a lawyer, engineer, or doctor, I’ve decided to follow in your footsteps and mimic your personality and spirit. They say that when you die, you still live on in the hearts and minds of the people you’ve made an impression on. I now know it is the truth – I have first-hand experience.
It was a pretty wet day and I was walking into Nordstrom. I wanted to pick up a pair of boots or a few shirts. I walked toward the door and noticed that a woman was walking up behind me, so I held the door open for her and this is what she had to say:
Thank you. You are such a gentleman. The world needs more people like you. Your mother raised you well and please, tell your mother I said that.
So that’s exactly what I’m doing. I’m telling you what she said. I haven’t written you a letter since I went off to boot camp. Even then, those letters were updates on life, and not about deeply profound experiences. This experience touched me deeply and who would have thought it would happen at the entrance of a department store. I know you raised me well. You raised me to respect others and treat others not only how you would like to be treated, but as they would like to be treated. You taught me to cook, care for others, help the less fortunate, and be accepting. Tolerance was not enough. You wanted me to open my eyes to the intricacies of the people around me. You were the one who pushed me to excel in the art of making connections: something that evolved into my passion for growing myself emotionally and mentally. I majored in communication because I saw how good you were at it and I wanted to do the same. I saw how well you taught students and the relationships that you were able to form with strangers. I thought to myself “I want to be able to do that too”. I know why you did it. You were always the happy one and I realize now that it was because the more you helped others and surrounded yourself with pleasant people looking for a conversation, the happier you became. I’m doing the same. Thank you.
Let’s go back to the woman at Nordstrom. I realize that sex had nothing to do with it. All this time everyone has been talking about being the “nice guy” or being “chivalrous”, but that’s not really what it’s about is it? I felt like it was more about having a deep respect for others and making a conscious decision to make life a little easier for everyone involved. I could have let the door close so she could open it herself, but that is inefficient. An extra minute of my time or a show of respect and friendliness to a fellow human being? That was my choice and I clearly made the right one according to how you raised me. I would have and have done the same thing for a male. Male, female, or however you want to identify as – it doesn’t really matter. What matters is that I acknowledged the presence of another soul in the same vicinity as myself. I remember learning the 6 paces rule. If the person is farther than 6 paces, don’t wait. But for me, extending that standard distance is paying the proper respect. I’m not a “nice guy” and I’m not even that “nice”. But I respect everyone until they give me a sound reason not to and it’s usually a result of their actions.
And I thought of you, ma. I thought of how you always listened to your heart. You did what you wanted and what you thought was best if you believed in it. By golly you were stubborn as hell. Look what you made. You created me and I’m the same way. My brain says I shouldn’t, but my heart always wins out. You know the best part of the story? My friend held the second set of doors for this woman because I set the precedent and he felt like he had to. I hope that soon, he will also understand and feel the same way I do. That instead of feeling pressured to do it, he will volunteer his services. Yesterday, I made my mark and inspired someone to think about something, the way you inspired me and all of your students. It all starts somewhere and I’ll make my mark on others the way you made your mark on me – one person at a time.