Late one recent Saturday night I made my way to Minneapolis-Saint Paul Airport to pick up my 20-year-old son. He was returning from a week in Jamaica on a service-learning trip. There he helped build an addition onto an elementary school building, entertained schoolchildren during recess, and experienced his very first nightclub.
I stood by the sliding security glass doors that separate returning passengers from their family and friends. Next to me, a group of 20 or so people gathered. Many held homemade signs on neon poster board reading, "Welcome Home," "You are my hero!" and "Gone from my sight but never my heart."
A man in a green t-shirt appeared to be some sort of ringleader. His hand clutched the much smaller palm of a yawning, wide-eyed toddler with pigtails and curls while he split his attention between her, the crowd, and the all-important sliding glass doors. The air was charged with the group's anticipation.
At last, a woman in a flowing, print sundress appeared. When the sliding glass doors opened, the crowd broke out in wild, thunderous applause. As the woman's eyes widened, her hand shot to cover her mouth (which formed a wide "O"), and within seconds she was crying. It was clear she hadn't expected such a crowd. Pulling Green T-shirt's hand, the toddler ran toward Sun Dress, encircled one leg, and held on tight in a true toddler bear hug. Adults swarmed in from all sides, offering Kleenex as well as more hugs.
After the excitement died down, Green T-shirt stopped for a quick drink at the fountain near me.
"Who's the celebrity?" I asked.
"My sister," he replied. His eyes were filled with the most amazing mixture of love and pride I have ever seen. "For the past year she's been a volunteer in Africa, teaching children English."
Witnessing such love, and no doubt anticipating my own rush of emotions upon welcoming my son from his adventure, a tear escaped the corner of my eye. This is what it all comes down to: Helping those in need and loving those who are important to us. Nothing matters more.
I discovered the importance of this vital lesson while interviewing happy people for Full Heart Living: Conversations with the Happiest People I Know. Happier people make their connections with others a top priority, and contributing to the common good is equally important.
Coordinating schedules, making signs, even allowing a toddler to stay up past her bedtime, the family and friends of Sun Dress went the extra mile to welcome her home and to affirm her efforts to help others.
When I saw my son coming through the glass doors, I gave him the biggest hug of his life and told him how proud I was of his work.
Want to make relationships more of a priority in your life? Here are a few of the many suggestions from the Connecting chapter in Full Heart Living:
REACH OUT Contact friends with whom you've been out of touch. Ask a coworker to lunch. Send a family member a card. Stop by your elderly neighbor's place.
TELL PEOPLE YOU CARE ABOUT THEM Some of the most powerful phrases are: I care about you. I'm here for you. I'm here with you. I love you. I'm sorry.
You'll find the full list on heartfelt ways to Connect in my workbook, Full Heart Living Workbook. Download it for free at www.FullHeartLiving.com.