I usually toss any dimes I have in my pockets at the end of the day into a jar, where they stay until an annual count-and-bank. But today I have set one down on my desk to remind me that small things matter.
We all know the saying that life can change on a dime. It did for many people in what had seemed like just another ordinary work day at Fort Hood yesterday. And it did for countless other people who encountered sudden turns that will never make the headlines.
I heard about the Fort Hood shootings on the radio as I drove home from my weekly get-together with two buddies. One of them had recounted how a motorcycle outing last week went south. Riding hard, he went into a left-hander and didn’t come out. His bike was totaled, and friends riding behind him said he narrowly missed a concrete pole as he slid across the dirt.
Thankfully, other than a minor concussion and heavy bruising, he walked away unscathed. But he knows that it was a close call.
That in turn got me thinking about Matthew. We became friends when I was a trainee reporter on my first weekly newspaper, and he was a young detective on the local police force. A few years older than me, he was good-looking and impish, with a twinkle in his eye, and a silver tongue and a smile that charmed moms and enchanted their daughters. I quietly envied his charisma and confidence.
We lost contact when I moved away. Then, some years later, I heard that he’d been in an accident a few months previously. Driven his sports car into a corner too fast, and not made it. I was shocked when I visited him in hospital: he could hardly form words, and he was being spoon-fed by relatives. But there was still that twinkle in his eye.
Time passed again, and then we got to catch up when I returned to the area a few years later. He had improved greatly, but he walked with a cane and one of his arms was semi-paralyzed. He had to wear glasses because his vision had been damaged. His speech was better, but slow. There was still the twinkle, though.
We met at a restaurant, and when he went to the restroom I glanced down at his glasses case, open on the table. In the bottom was a piece of paper with a list of things he’d wanted to remember for our conversation. That saddened me more than anything; the charmer now lost for words.
So this morning I awoke thinking how life will change on a dime for many people today. It made me want to try to be sure that each of my encounters with others is kind, so that if it should turn out to be the final one, for either of us, it will have been warm.
Another cop, San Diego patrolman Jeremy Henwood, comes to mind. In 2011 a security camera in a McDonald’s caught him buying food for a boy he encountered while getting his own lunch—moments before he was shot dead during a routine traffic stop. His handful of dimes made a lasting impact.
It needn’t cost us much to be kind to those we come into contact with—just a few minutes, a few coins, a few words. But it may make a big difference. Someone’s world could be about to change on a dime. In my busy, to-do-list day, I surely can spare them one.