When fifteen squirrelly four-year-olds erupted in chaos at the El Camino YMCA one Tuesday, I took a deep breath, put my hands on my hips and prepared to scold them. Cherub-faced Morgan Cheli caught the storm brewing behind my eyes and announced, “You’re pretty.”
Was this baby simply placating me, hoping I wouldn’t lose my temper? With a quick hug, she returned to her wild friends and prepared for my tongue-lashing. Morgan smiled gently and folded her tiny hands in her lap, waiting patiently. How could I ever be upset with anyone so precious?” I thought.
For the past eighteen years, I’ve had the joy of teaching children dance. This part time hobby helped me facilitate an environment where movement is about expression, not perfection – where dancers are encouraged to be free with their bodies, to feel the beat of the music in their own step.
This loose structure has opened the door for many an untamed critique. I’ve been told “you may look like a grown-up, but don’t act like one” Witnesses have said that I’m the “silliest creature” they’ve ever known, and that for “being 100 years old, I look darn good.” But in all my years, I’ve never had a child tell me I was pretty.
Studying Morgan that afternoon, I saw that her heartfelt compliments were not just for me. Throughout the class, she whispered something sweet in all her classmate’s ears. Maddie had on a beautiful sweater. Vivian had a nice hairdo. Lena, Catherine and Maya had fun outfits. But the most touching was when she turned to her best friend, Elyssa, and said “I love you.”
I left that day wrapped in the warmth of a child’s innocent expression and wondered, When was the last time I told someone they were pretty, or that I even loved them? God knows I think those things, but when do I make the effort to be so unabashed?
As grownups, we often get completely lost in our daily routine of mundane chores and unpaid bills. We forget it’s the simple things that make life delightful. While it feels good to receive a compliment, it feels even better to give one. Especially when it comes from the heart.
Relishing the impact Morgan’s casual compliment had on my day, I decided it was time I paid better attention to the world around me. I resolved to begin telling people whatever kind thoughts I had for them.
My mission this month is to pay an unsuspecting soul a compliment. It may be at the gas station or in line at Safeway. I will search for my victim, find just the right thing to say and blurt it out. What’s the worst thing that could happen? They might turn away because they fear I’m a lunatic. But more likely, it will make them smile.
Just imagine what Los Altos would be like if we all followed Morgan’s lead. It would truly be the Happiest Place on Earth!