I walked in a men’s Graphic t shirt store and all the employees stared at me. That man with the long chin in the corner gave me a, “what are you doing here?” face. The one by the changing rooms rolled his eyes as if to say, “just another tourist who doesn’t understand what we sell.” And the guy by the register even chuckled.
But you looked. You smiled. You asked in Danish if I needed help.
“Yes, please,” I quickly replied. “I want to buy something for my brother. He loves graphic tees.”
You smiled even bigger that time, told me I had come to the right place, and started telling me the history of the store.
I don’t think you understood just how much it meant to me that you held up various designs and even tried them on so I could see “just how good they look on.” Because I wanted my brother to have the best shirt there and one that would really fit him well.
I don’t think you understood just how much it meant to me that you asked all about my life, why I was there, where I had traveled, why I was living in Switzerland. Because I was traveling alone that weekend, and as much as I wanted to try out a solo trip, my extroverted self was going a little crazy.
I don’t think you understood just how much it meant to me when, after I told you where I was interning, your eyes got all big and you said, “You are an inspiration. I know you are doing amazing work.” Because that day I passed so many tall buildings with well dressed businessmen inside and I wondered if anyone cared about my work.
I don’t think you understood just how much it meant to me that even after I told you I was American, you still asked where in the US I was from, and you pretended to be interested in knowing what North Carolina was like. Because I was really, really missing home. And talking about home made it feel like, for a minute, I was there.
I don’t think you understood just how much it meant to me that you invested so much in making sure I found the perfect gift. Because my brother is my best friend. And I wanted to find a t shirt that would symbolize that.
I don’t think you understood just how much it meant to me that you joked about how fast I talk and winked when I tried to say something in Danish. Because we all want to be appreciated by the very basic things that make us who we are: my fast talking, clumsiness and passion for languages being paramount aspects of who I am.
I don’t think you understood just how much it meant to me that even after we had gone through the long process of finding the perfect shirt, when I got to the checkout I really liked that hat, and you just gave it to me for free. Because you understood that my brother would like that– the hat, yes, but the story even more. You could have easily convinced me to buy that hat, you knew that, but you understood that the hat would mean more, to me and to my brother, if you just gave it to me instead.
I don’t think you understood just how much it meant to me that you also gave me that CD. It was your friend’s band, you said, “and he’s as goofy and delightful as your brother probably is,” he added. Because sometimes I don’t think people are listening when I go off on tangents about how cool the people in my life are. But clearly you listened when I listed off my brother’s qualities.
I don’t think you understood just how much it meant to me that someone gave me the time of day in a men’s clothing store. You treated me like a real human being, with passions and interests and loves, who cannot be bought or sold but instead has hopes and dreams and is unique in her own right.
I’ll play your friend’s CD and think of you. When I embark on adventures with my brother, I’ll take pictures of us– me wearing my puffy blue jacket that you said made my eyes pop– and my brother in the shirt and hat you helped me choose, and I’ll think of you. When I walk into men’s clothing stores and the employees scoff at me, I’ll hold my head high and remember that people like you exist.
I hope you know that you are capable of having such a profound effect on people. When you told me my internship encouraged you to do more with your life, I wish I had told you you’re already doing so much. You’re making people like me feel empowered. And that’s all we can hope anyone would do with their life.
So, To Man From The Men’s Graphic T Shirt Store: I hope this helps you understand just how much you meant to me. So thank you. Thank you for being you.