The little thing someone said that meant the world to you

By Caitlin Kelly


I was flying home from Paris to New York on a wide-body 777.

The turbulence wasn’t, objectively, that bad at all and, really, could have been much worse. But I really dislike turbulence, especially at the start of a 7.5 hour trans-oceanic flight with Godknowshowmuch more of it ahead.

Even while mortified by my babyishness, I cried. Not a lot and not loudly.

A man sitting in the seat in front of me, an Indian man in his 60s or beyond, was gentle and kind.

“It’s all right. We’re all here with you,” he said.

His very simple words meant a lot to me, as someone who’s been through way too much emotional turbulence in my past life, which I sometimes think is why physical turbulence undoes me somehow. Nor did I grow up in  family who did a lot of comforting or cuddling if/when I was scared. That was my job.

I was so touched by his words and later wanted to thank him, but he was too quickly gone.

Maybe he’s just that kind to everyone.

I’m forever amazed at the things we say to one another, whether strangers on an airplane or teacher to student (or vice versa), that can leave such a positive effect on us, years, even decades later.

Sometimes it’s like a stone whose initial plunk into the water ripples outward in many circles, having a much deeper and profound effect on you than the person speaking could possibly know or understand.

It seems such a little thing…

Maybe not everyone is as open or susceptible to these things as I seem to be, but I try to say nice things whenever and wherever I can; readers of this blog know I can be very tough indeed. I’m no Pollyanna, but it’s been so powerful in my life when someone has offered a nugget of passing wisdom.

What could you say today to change someone's life for the better?
What could you say today to change someone’s life for the better?

Like the woman I met socially just as my now-husband and I had started dating. We were serious about one another from the start, but we argued a lot and were stubborn and hot-headed. Not a pretty combination.

“You can give this man his happiest years or his worst years,” she said. I knew her very briefly and maybe saw her once or twice after that.

That made clear to me what my wisest choice would be and, 15 years later, we are happily married.

I didn’t come from a family filled with cute, cosy homilies, so I learned to find much of my wisdom and comfort from people beyond that circle.

In my mid-20s, on a journalism fellowship in Paris, a perceptive friend about 15 years my senior noticed my obsession with antiques, one that continues today.

Probably 200 years old, found at a country auction in Nova Scotia
Probably 200 years old, found at a country auction in Nova Scotia

“You don’t have to buy other people’s histories,” she said.

That same year, back in the days before (yes, really!) the Internet and the cloud, I was shooting a lot of film and slides, and had hundreds of them, going back years and much global travel, in a big black portfolio I used to show editors to win work.

It was stolen and I was devastated. How could I possibly persuade people to trust me and invest their time and money in my skills?

“Nope,” said a fellow fellow, a woman a bit older than me, also from Toronto, said firmly. “Everything inside that portfolio is already inside you. You don’t need it.”

She was right.

What has someone said to you that changed your life for the better?

What have you said?

24 thoughts on “The little thing someone said that meant the world to you

  1. Can’t really put my finger on any one thing that led me to this or that. But I know there were conversations that definitely changed me. Much too complicated to explain here.

    As a teacher my words flow out and as much as I intend to uplift, support, or give a critique, sometimes I am misunderstood. When students are looking for the world to bring them down, they will see/hear the world bringing them down everywhere.

    It is interesting, and it goes along with what you are saying about past pains. Our brains are hard wired to react based on our past experiences. And as a teacher, you never really know what is going to trigger a student to react.

  2. I had an experience a couple of years ago. I was volunteering for a production company, and we had just lost our stage manager. Certain people within the organization wanted me to step up, but another volunteer thought he should be the one to take charge. The night I was supposed to debut as stage manager, the other guy was starting to take the lead and I stepped back saying, “I don’t want to cause any drama. If he wants it that bad, he can do it.” The lead volunteer grabbed me by the shoulders, looked me straight in the eye and said, “Own it. This gig is yours.” From that point on, I had no fear. And whenever I have doubts about myself, I still remember that moment.

    “Own it.” Two simple words that continue to have major repercussions. I don’t know that I ever adequately thanked him for that bolstering of confidence.

    1. Love this! Thanks much for sharing this..

      Maybe you could track him down through social media and drop him a thank-you note. We all need to know when we’ve done something that helpful.

      Own it. Indeed! 🙂

  3. This is lovely. It warms my heart. Yesterday I had a telephone conversation with a lady who wants to use one of my images on her forthcoming book, and she said the nicest things to me about my work. She told me she searched for hours, days, months, even to find the right image and then she came across my work and she knew it was perfect. It was a moment that I realised that something I have created and put out there can have such an impact on someone which was completely out of my control. It felt pretty great! I don’t think you can put a value on that.

    1. Emily, thanks.

      What a neat story! A young photographer friend of mine just had one of her news photos used for a book cover and we’re so proud of her. As author of two books, I also know deeply invested every author is (or should be!) in the cover of our work. Congrats!

  4. What a great post. It reminds me of the power of paying attention to those around you and the simple power of words. When I was leaving to go across the country–leaving my friends and family behind–a dear friend said to me, “When you are feeling lonely, look up. We’ll be looking at the very same stars and sky that you are. We can always meet there.” I knew I wouldn’t feel so alone, and I haven’t.

    I’ve been the shoulder on which many people have cried or relied for soothing. What have I said? I can’t remember exactly, but I know those people have hugged me and told me that I said exactly the right thing. I helped. I suppose that’s all I need to remember.

  5. i love these moments, both offering words to another and being on the receiving end. you are so right, they can change everything for someone and we have no idea how much impact they have at times.

  6. What a great post. So nice to remember the power we all have to touch someone’s life in a positive way. What a great gift, and what a better place the world would be if we remember to use it. Thanks for sharing this. ~Rita

  7. I was recently invited by a psychologist friend to a workshop titled Healing Your Childhood Wounds… I had little idea about what would happen and the only childhood wound I knew about was abandon (parents’ divorce). Long story short, I cried like I hadn’t in many years and came out with two more wounds identified 😦 . Several days later I spoke with my friend and she told me that the therapist who had guided the workshop said I was an intelligent woman, jajajaaa, yeah, that gave me a very welcome esteem boost specially after I had succumbed to my childhood pains and fears in front of a group of strangers, had cried and bared my soul like never before… very unexpected comment 🙂 I have been very blessed in life to get those beautiful, uplifting comments I didn’t get at home from people that are part of my everyday… wonderful post, loved the question, it gave me an opportunity to share this anecdote which otherwise would’ve stayed in my heart exclusively… read you soon, Alexandra

    1. Thanks for sharing that…

      I had a similar moment in a group of 75 people I didn’t know, and got quite emotional. It happens! I think it’s a great release to finally let some of that stuff go, and I know you can spend a lifetime saying “No, I’m fine” even if you’re not.

      I read a phrase recently about the “unmothered” — thought it was weird — and realized how much it is me. I may write a blog post about it.

  8. Julia

    As usual, you have brought up an interesting topic, how a kind word from a total stranger can have an enormous impact. When my daughter Claire was very little she was having a total meltdown on the street near our house, screaming, crying, tantrumming in all directions. I felt embarrassed and helpless about what to do and repelled by the situation to be honest. I grabbed her in a big bear hug and sat on the sidewalk and held on to her flailing body with all my strength until she gradually calmed. This probably took 20 minutes. I think we were both heaving sobs by that point. And then an old woman came up to me and put her hand on my shoulder and said, “Many parents would have slapped that child” and told me I had done a really good job. I will never forget that.

  9. A friend told me recently I was one of the world’s best as yet undiscovered writers. I had hit a lull in feeling inspired and motivated. I am sure he is extremely biased but it meant the world b/c he also is bright and knows his stuff. And I tell my son, often, when he is too critical of himself: “You are enough. You came into this world enough.” I sure hope it has the impact I want it to . . .

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