Influence

By A.A.

I was a scrawny, asthmatic eight-year-old living in India with my family in the early 1980s when an old family friend visited and informed me with a smile that she had taken care of me when I was a baby. I felt a special link with her. As she reminisced with my parents, I knelt behind her and silently braided her honey-colored hair. It was my first attempt at braiding, and it turned out quite loose and unsymmetrical. But when I finished and I asked her how she liked it, she felt the back of her head and said, “It’s lovely! And it’s much more comfortable in this heat. Thank you for doing that for me.”

An eight-year-old who thought she wasn’t very good at many things gained a sense of worth and learned the reward of helping others in little ways.

A year or two later, also in India, we went for an all-day outing up a local “mountain” with a thousand stone steps. My asthma forced me to rest often, but it was worth the effort. When we reached the top, we explored a fascinating old museum that had once been a magnificent palace and observed the lifestyle of bygone Indian royalty in the carefully preserved, fully furnished rooms and lush, immaculately kept gardens.

What many people fail to realize is that the world of tomorrow is what the adults of today make it, according to what they choose to give or not give the next generation

The next day our teacher asked us to write an essay about our excursion, and I became completely absorbed in painstakingly documenting every event of the day—the hike up the mountain, the monkeys we met on the way and how they took peanuts from our hands and ate them, the massive statue of a fierce warrior at the entrance of the palace, and every detail of the palace itself. I was pleased with my essay and so was my teacher, but she gently explained that it’s usually better to not begin every sentence with “then.” She suggested some alternatives, and I liked the way they sounded. Such constructive criticism and collaboration were new concepts to me, but the encouragement and help I received that day steered me toward a fulfilling career in writing and editing.

So whether you’re are a parent, teacher, caregiver, or “bystander,” never underestimate the influence you have on the children who share your world. Sometimes all it takes is an approving smile or an encouraging word to change a young life, and the love you give will come back to you.

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