June 27, 2014
From out of the blue, Vince Gill called me the other day and said, “I just want to thank you for writing, ‘When Two Worlds Collide’.”
I was quite taken back. That song is almost a half-century old. Vince was still a toddler the night Roger Miller and I first scratched it out in the back of Roger’s old Rambler station wagon riding between Nashville and San Antonio. Why was Vince calling to thank me for writing it now?
“I just heard it on the radio,” he said, “and it touched me. It blessed me, and I want to thank you for writing it.” I told him he needed to look upward and thank Roger too.
After we hung up, I got to thinking about what Vince had just done. He had taken a very ordinary day in my life and, by simply reaching out to me in kindness, had made it a special day to remember.
Back last winter, I wasn’t having a particularly good morning. It was cold and windy outside, and the overcast skies were spitting sleet and snow. I was pushing my shopping cart through the aisles of my neighborhood grocery store trying to decide which items I should buy and which ones I shouldn’t buy, knowing that I would be away from home for over a week while I was on tour.
I was somewhere between the prune juice and the pickles….or was it the tomatoes and the tofu?…..when I spotted another shopper coming toward me from the opposite direction. I didn’t know the man, but he appeared to be alone as was I. As I eased my cart over to the right side of the aisle in order to let him pass, he stopped and looked directly at me.
Neither of us spoke at first, but I was already preparing to say, “I’m what’s left of him,” which is what I often reply when somebody asks, “Are you Bill Anderson?” I have been in that situation enough times over the years to suspect that was what was coming next.
But he completely surprised me. Instead of asking me a question of any type he simply looked me directly in the eye and gently said, “I want to thank you for making our lives more meaningful.”
I’m not sure how long it took me to respond, but I know several seconds had to have passed. I was trying to process what I had just heard.
“Our” lives?? I had already determined that he was alone, so who was “our”? More “meaningful?” How? What had I done? Did he have me mixed-up with someone else? Like his preacher perhaps? His congressman or his local council member? All I’ve ever done is to try to write and sing a few country songs. I could only mumble, “Thank you.” And then I added, “That’s a very nice thing for you to say.”
He smiled and said, “I mean it,” and I knew he did. He turned his attention back to his cart and began moving away. Before he could get out of earshot I added over my shoulder, “You just made my day. Thank you.” And in an instant he was gone.
I was dumfounded. Not only was I stunned by what he had said and the sincerity in his voice when he said it, but I was touched by the simple kindness of a stranger who had stopped to thank me for something I didn’t even realize I had done.
As I scoured the shelves somewhere between the cheddar cheese and the Cheerios, I realized there was a lesson for me in what had just taken place. I don’t remember ever having walked up to a total stranger and paid them a compliment. Or having said something as nice as this gentleman had just said to me. Why not? Maybe if I had summoned forth a tad more courage and compassion I could have made somebody else’s day the way this man had just made mine. Or the way Vince Gill was going to make another of my days several months later.
There in the store I suddenly felt an urge to go hug the lady who was restocking the toilet paper. Or grab the hand of the guy sorting cucumbers and cantaloupes over in the produce section and break into “Kumbaya.” I wanted to be nice to somebody.
I got to the check out counter and the clerk behind the register was sniffling and blowing his nose. Suddenly I blurted out, “I hope your cold gets better.” He coughed into his handkerchief and muttered something that sounded like, “Thank you.” And then I REALLY felt dumb.
Five minutes before, a total stranger had stopped and told me that I had done some things that made his and others’ lives more meaningful. And all I could say in my own effort to spread a little sunshine was, “I hope your cold gets better?” What kind of brilliant comment was that?? I lowered my head in shame, wishing the man could ring up my charges a little faster.
But on the way out to my car I started laughing. “Anderson,” I said to myself, “you are an absolute idiot. You have spent over fifty years touching people’s emotions through your songs. But then when you try to say something meaningful to someone face-to-face all you can come up with is, ‘I hope your cold gets better?’
I promised myself to start trying to do better than that. All of us need to practice executing more random acts of kindness. Having seen twice now how good it feels to be on the receiving end of such an act, I am pledging to make the effort to improve.
I want to be either the man in the grocery store or Vince Gill when I grow up.