And Another Thing: Lessons learned from a role model

By: Susan Rushton
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I saw her at the gym after my workout. For just a step, just a second, I considered not greeting her. She hadn’t seen me, wouldn’t have missed my hello, would have happily gone about her day without realizing I hadn’t said anything. And I was so sweaty! I was just a mess! How simple not to subject her to my wet hair, dripping face and aromatic self.

But I have this doctor, see, who is also a friend and a role model.  

And I thought about him, as I often do. Years ago I’d seen him here, at the same gym, on the other side of the weight room and hadn’t greeted him. He was busy with his own effort, and I thought he hadn’t seen me. But later he came up to me and said hello, and we talked about the benefits – to both him and me – of greeting each other. Just a second, just a moment, nothing big, just one person acknowledging another.

Yes, it’s only a second. But what if everyone decided to give others a smile and a nod and a “hello, how are you?” Instead of not? What friendliness would result. And how wonderful to be a part of that.  

Instead of not.

All this went through my head as I passed my friend, who still hadn’t seen me. But I got stuck on my memory of that conversation with my doctor, just as if I’d caught my shirt on a nail. And I turned back and said hello. We had a wonderful few minutes catching up. The result of those few minutes? We were both fuller than we’d been before.

The same thing happened a couple of days ago: On the way out of the library, I saw a woman I recognized. She hadn’t seen me; again, she wouldn’t have missed my not saying hi. I was on my way somewhere, and she was busy checking stuff out.

But ... I remembered my doctor. And I said hi. It made us both happy.

As I said, this is a small thing, but the more I do it, the better I feel.

James – my doctor – may or may not consider himself a role model. I don’t think that’s his goal. Instead, I imagine his goal is his well-being as well as others’; his joy as well as others’; his mental and physical health as well as others’. He’d be happy, I guess, if others considered him a role model. I know I’m happy to consider him one of mine.

Using James like this – and I am using him – has a startling result.  

And as I try to think of how to explain it, I recall part of a poem by Walter de la Mare: “It’s a very odd thing/ As odd can be/ That whatever Miss T eats/ Turns into Miss T.”

So what was once a peach becomes, now that it’s part of Miss T, just that: part of Miss T and not a peach anymore.

If I use the behavior I’ve learned from James, my behavior becomes mine, a part of me. I might think of it as his, but nobody else does.  

This is how Susan behaves, and that’s all there is to it. I can blame James for it, but I’m the one behaving this way, after all.

Surely that’s a good thing. Even if I think of James as I act more and more like myself.

Several years ago, I wrote about my friends, Helen and Carol, mother and daughter. Helen is very gracious, and so is Carol. She says it’s her mother’s fault. I said in that long-ago column that I thought Carol should probably just accept her graciousness as hers and be done with it. I commented that after a certain point – and a certain age – we have to take responsibility for the way we are.

So be it.

Susan Rushton’s column appears every other Sunday in the Auburn  Journal. Her email address is