Brush with Greatness

img_0194A few Saturdays ago, I drove two and a half hours to New Hampshire to attend a book signing. One of the greats of children’s picture books, Tomie DePaola, was signing books at a local book shop. The weather was beautiful, and I’d downloaded a new audio book, so this mom was thrilled for a few hours in the car alone.

When I arrived, there were already fifty or sixty people in line. I eagerly purchased one book entitled, “Quiet” and got into line holding it and the book I’d brought from home–“Strega Nona.” I waited about thirty minutes, which I didn’t mind at all. The crowd was friendly, and I got to partake in one of my favorite activities in life: people watching. Here are a few treasures I saw and heard:

  • patient grandmother with differently-abled grandson
  • young Caucasian teacher explaining to older woman why diversity matters in books, and that all of her students are brown and need to see themselves in books
  • twenty-something couple who could not stop gazing into each other’s eyes as they spoke to one another–it was as if the rest of us weren’t there–so in love
  • tiny girl in flip flops who was only enduring the line due to her mom’s promise of ice cream after the event
  • early fifties parent whose kids had long since moved out–there to have a book re-signed, spent time in line wistfully talking about the joy of reading to her children when they were small
  • rock star dad wrangling a wriggling toddler and a tired baby
  • two teen boys having coffee at a small table, laughing and talking quietly and occasionally just taking in the crowd

As I drew closer to the front of the line, my heart beat a little faster, and I thought of what I might say while Tomie signed my books. I thought of how interesting it was that so many different kinds of people came together that day because of books, and I had this overwhelming gratefulness that I could be there, that someone taught me to read, that in my life I have gotten to teach many children to read, that I am a writer. Before I ever met the guest of honor, I had already brushed with greatness. For me, being in the moment is about noticing the “greatness” in the situations and people around us and that day, I did.

What did I say when I met Tomie DePaola?

“I just want to thank you for your work, and thank you for shining your light so brightly. You have made my life better.”

He smiled warmly and stopped signing, looking me in the eyes to say, “Thank you so much.” Maybe it’s a simple way to describe a big emotion but, I’ll tell you this: my heart felt a lot of joy.

We spent a minute or two talking about writing, and he even recommended a writer’s group he knew of. We took a photo together. I hugged my signed books as I exited the store.

If you get a chance to thank someone who has made your life better, DO IT. And it doesn’t matter if the person is well-known or published or famous or whatever. Each day that we are alive on the earth, we brush with greatness. Say thank you.

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