The other day Pete and I were eating at an Asian Buffet restaurant and had a seat up close to the buffet tables. A young couple came in shortly after us and were seated at the next table. As they went up to get their food I couldn’t help but notice the young lady’s outfit. She was wearing a leather (or faux leather, I can’t tell) dress with a low-cut back, fitted to the waist, and a flouncy mini-skirt. Under the dress she was wearing a teal cami, and her hair, up in a pony tail, had been dyed the same teal color. Her nails, if I recall correctly, were also teal. I don’t remember her boots or shoes but she had long legs. When she looked at me with a half-glare as she was putting food on her plate I realized I had been staring, and looked away.
I commented to Pete that when I was her age, if fashions of the time had allowed it, I would have loved to dress as she did.
Right after this she was walking past us on her way to their table, and I put my hand out to stop her. I recognized her look and knew that her defenses were up, which surprised me. So I quickly started talking, and told her that I loved her sense of style, and that she was adorable from head to toe. I commented on her cute dress and the way she used color with the black, and that I really just wanted to tell her how great she looked.
She didn’t say anything at first, then her eyes started to tear up and she said, “I saw you looking at me, and I thought you were going to say something mean to me…” and dropped off. I was sincerely shocked until I realized that she had no idea what I was thinking as I was admiring her…and it made me sad that her life experience had taught her that she should expect meanness. That she had taken such time and care to look so cute out to lunch with (I presume) her sweetie only to expect criticism, well, it just made me really sad.
She thanked me a dozen times and told me, “You have no idea how you’ve made me feel!”
It was a really simple thing. But it also made me wonder why it is so uncommon to lift up others that they expect the meanness from people? And though I’ve always made a point – thanks to my dad’s life lessons – to give others sincere compliments, or smiles, or empathy and a listening ear whenever I can, I can’t get that young girl out of my mind. She keeps reminding me that I need to be more intentional about finding opportunities to share with people that their efforts are noticed, and that they matter and have value. At least to some of us.