Making Strides

Does the world notice or does one live a solitary, invisible life?  Do the things I do matter and does anyone see them?  Then again, do I do the things I do, live the way I live, for me or because I want someone to notice?

When I was a reserve police officer, we often found ourselves at local night spots near closing time; being called there to quash the almost inevitable physical altercations that can occur when you combine alcoholic beverages with testosterone and marginal intelligence.

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In those early morning hours when fights did not occur, we found ourselves with the opportunity to gaze upon the bevy of long legs and low cut tops which could also be found exiting the entertainment establishments.  Quite often we’d be met with drunken smiles and overt flirtation.  But those days seemed to diminish as we grew older and younger officers joined the department.  As we were leaving one night, one of my friends said, “With Matt standing there, I may as well have been wearing a tree suit for all the notice they took of me!”  The older we got, the less we were noticed by the beauties.  We became invisible to them.

Many years ago I was on the high school golf team.  I feel safe in saying that I was a slightly-above-average golfer.  I read a statistic once, somewhere, which said 90% of the golfers in American cannot break 100.  OK.  So I was better than average.  But I actually didn’t get to my best game until years after high school.

My father was the encouragement behind me playing golf.  One of his high school friends played on the PGA Tour and that was his dream for me.  When the Tour came through Southern California, he’d taken my Mom to see the tournament.  Her only comment was, “Those guys walk faster than anyone I’ve ever seen!  I couldn’t keep up!  They’d hit and then walk away so fast!”  Of course, my mother was only five feet tall, so she was never able to walk with much speed.  But what she said that day rattled around in my head.

Soon I began walking fast.  I lengthened my stride as much as possible.  I strode with such an effort that my trailing foot would push off and nearly leave the ground before my leading foot would touch down.  I walked like this whenever I could, whenever I wasn’t in a crowd.

I guess I thought that this would somehow improve my golf game.  Or, perhaps, when I finally was a professional, I’d already know how to walk fast.  Who knows what was going on in my addled brain.  But I walked like (I’d heard my mom say) a professional golfer walked.  No one noticed and my game didn’t improve.  Or, if it did, it had nothing to do with how long my strides were before or after I hit the shot.

Decades later, time was approaching for one of my high school reunions.  There was some sort of chat room on a site where we all talked about whether we could attend.  On that chat, someone mentioned me, saying they used to see me walking home from school and what long strides I had.  I was surprised!  Someone had noticed me walking and I never knew.

And that got me pondering.  Do the things I do in my life—those scant few times when I was kind to others or helped a stranger or offered money to a homeless person—have any impact on or meaning for others?

I thought about it for a while and then switched my thought stream to considering if it mattered that someone took notice.  After all, was I doing it—being kind—so someone else would notice me?  Or was I acting that way for the sake of kindness?  Does it matter if the strides I have taken in my life to better myself, to become a kinder person, are noticed by others?  After all, am I doing it to be noticed or to be kind?

What ultimately matters is that I brightened someone’s day with a smile or a kind word, or that I helped someone who was worse off than me, not whether someone noticed me doing it.  I suppose it’s nice if an act of kindness inspires another but, in the end, it’s about the act and not the accolades.

This doesn’t mean I will no longer attempt to increase the strides I am making in my life.  It just means I will focus on the results of the strides and not whether they’re noticed.

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