University freshman Ben Byrum was lonely.

Ben had been to a nearby church a few times but didn’t feel connected or wanted. He decided to go one more time. He would walk in and sit down. If no one spoke to him before the service started, he would walk out and not return.

A countdown timer at the front of the sanctuary indicated the time remaining before the service would begin; five minutes to go.

People wandered in, gathered in cliques, slapped backs, gossiped, chuckled. No one spoke to him. Occasionally someone looked his way. He hoped they would smile or nod; he would count that a greeting and stay. Didn’t happen.

With thirty seconds remaining, Ben got ready to leave. He would go back to his room and stay there alone for the rest of the day.

With fifteen seconds left on the countdown clock, his math professor, seated two rows in front of him, turned around, smiled and said, “I’m glad you’re here, Ben.”

He stayed.

He doesn’t remember the sermon or what hymns were sung. What he remembers is being noticed. “People may forget what you say,” said Maya Angelou, “but they will never forget how you made them feel.”

Don’t make the mistake of limiting this to Sunday morning church. Everyone wants to be wanted. Everyone needs to be noticed. Being ignored is rejection, pure and simple. And it hurts.

♦     ♦     ♦

A man in his thirties left his San Francisco apartment, walked to the Golden Gate Bridge, and jumped to his death.

A suicide letter, found on the dresser in his apartment said, “I’m going to walk to the bridge. If one person smiles at me on the way, I won’t jump.”

You have to wonder how far the walk was from his apartment to the bridge and how many people he passed on the way—any one of whom could have saved a life with a smile.

♦     ♦     ♦

At 9:00 p.m. on a November night in 2015, Desmond Powell was walking home from a basketball game in Manchester, New Hampshire. Approaching the Granite Street Bridge, he saw a man sitting on the cement railing over the Merrimack River, 100 feet below.

“Hey buddy, what are you doing?” Powell asked.

“I’m gonna jump,” the man said.

For the next ten minutes they talked, the stranger alternating between crying and staring at the churning black water below. “I’m having a rough time,” he said. “I don’t have a job, I’m hungry, and I’m addicted to heroin.”

Powell inched closer, expressed his concern and told him the two-year-old daughter he had told him about loved and needed him. He held out his hand. The fellow gripped it and climbed down.

“I’m Desmond,” Powell said. “Let me buy you something to eat.” They ate and talked. After a while, the man said, “Desmond, can you call the police so I can get help?”

Fifteen minutes later, the police arrived. As he climbed into the patrol car, he turned to Powell. “Thank you,” he said. “You are my hero.” (This story excerpted and edited from Reader’s Digest, September 2017.)

Today let it be your smile, your “hello,” your word of encouragement that makes someone’s day.

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