The woman was the last of a small group to leave her table at the restaurant. I saw her glance in my direction several times, as though she wanted to say something but wasn’t sure. Then she walked over to the table where I had been writing at my MacBook.
“Excuse me,” she started, “but don’t you walk a dog that looks like a collie? Do you walk near Bryant Avenue a lot of times?”
I don’t think Lucy looks like a collie, but I can see how someone could see her that way from a distance. I told her that Lucy and I turn around at Bryant Avenue at the halfway point of our typical walk, so it probably was us she was thinking of. I showed her a photo of Lucy.
She smiled and seemed pleased that she had been right.
“I just want to tell you that you have a wonderful dog,” she said. “I’ve never seen a dog so well-behaved. I can’t believe how she does everything you tell her to do. It’s amazing.”
I was delighted, of course. I smiled happily to the woman, but I think I was smiling even more broadly on the inside.
The woman and I introduced ourselves to one another and we chatted for a couple of minutes. Then her husband stuck his head back inside to see what had delayed his wife. She soon headed outside to join her family.
After she was gone, I felt happy. As I thought about why I was happy, I felt a little bit silly.
This was just a random stranger. She’s really seen very little of Lucy or of me. Her opinion shouldn’t matter. But she made my evening anyway, simply because she took the time to give an honest compliment.
This happened one day last week and I’ve thought about it a lot since then. I’ve proudly told the story to several people — as I’m telling you about it now — because I wanted to share the praise someone had given to Lucy. And by extension, to me.
I’ve been in that woman’s position before, so I know it can feel uncomfortable approaching a stranger to give a compliment. I sometimes worry that the other person might misinterpret my approach, so there are times when I stifle what I’d like to say.
But it makes me happy to receive honest compliments and I think most people feel the same way. And when the stranger you approach reacts well, that makes it worth it for the compliment-giver, too. And isn’t it worth taking the chance of being misunderstood for the possibility of making someone’s day?
I remember a time six or eight years ago when I told a woman in Target that the dress she was wearing really looked great on her. I had no ulterior motives. I just wanted to let her know how great she looked.
I remember that she was so emotional that she almost cried.
She told me that she had had a terrible day and that she really needed to hear something positive and kind. She said that I’d made her day.
We tend not to talk to strangers as much in our society as we used to, but I think it’s still worth the effort. We can’t say every random compliment that comes into our minds, but there will be random, unexpected moments when it will feel appropriate.
When you have some honest praise for someone, even a stranger — and if the moment seems right — go ahead and take a chance.
You might make someone’s day — and it just might make you feel better about yourself, too. Try it.
Note: The photo above is Lucy guarding the front porch of our house Monday evening just before sunset.