As I grow older, I find myself tearing up more often than ever before. The reasons are numerous and varied and, in most cases, very cathartic for me. I don’t mind at all. It might be a song, a movie, a TV show, a memory, a realization or simply something that happened during my busy day.
I firmly believe these various circumstances have always presented themselves to me. I’m just more aware of them at this point in my life.
One of those moments materialized for me recently during a very hectic week in a major city. I was involved in a frenzied week of training which ran until 9 p.m. every night. I repeated the same program several times every day in order to accommodate the hundreds of employees our client had scheduled to attend.
Leadership and front-line employees alike arrived from all over the city to attend the three-hour sessions, day after day. Due to the size of each session, the programs were held in one of the largest and most historic churches in the city.
After the last session of my last night, I was alone in the enormous auditorium packing up my materials and props. I had turned off most of the lights, and it was extremely quiet at this point. I was suddenly startled to see someone just three feet in front of me … almost as though he had instantly materialized out of nowhere.
There, standing quietly with a warm smile on his thinly bearded face, was a short, middle-aged man who, extending his hand, said in heavily broken English, “Hello, Mr. Harry. My name is Albert.”
I smiled, shook his hand, and returned the greeting. He apologized for bothering me after a long week but said he wanted to thank me for everything he had learned this week. I thought that it was odd that he had referred to a three-hour session as “all week.”
He went on, in broken English, to explain that he wasn’t an official attendee of the training. He was an employee of the church where the sessions were being held. He was walking by the auditorium on the first night of the week after getting off work. He listened at the door to see why people were laughing. After a few minutes of listening, he casually made his way to the back of the room, picked up one of our booklets, found a seat and became an “unofficial attendee.” He sat through the entire program taking notes!
As if that weren’t unusual enough, Albert returned after work every night for the rest of the week and sat through the program again and again. I thanked him for doing so but couldn’t help but to inquire why he kept coming back.
Albert explained that he was from Albania and struggles to understand and translate the English language. Each night after the class ended at 9 p.m., he took his notes home, sat around his kitchen table with his wife, two sisters, one brother, and three high school aged children, and they all discussed and translated his notes. He told me that his entire family had learned so much by the end of the week and how much they all enjoyed the lessons they had learned. He wanted to stop by and thank me for the gift I had provided for his family.
I accepted his out-stretched hand once again and told him that it was I who wanted to thank him for reminding me that there were still good people in this world who wanted to learn and grow. I told him that it was an honor for me to be a part of his family’s growth. At that point, with what appeared to be glistening eyes, he hugged me and simply said, “Thank you, Mr. Harry, and God bless you.” Albert then turned and walked away into the darkness.
What I didn’t tell Albert was that many who shared that auditorium with him all week didn’t want to be there, others felt they were being forced to attend, many didn’t listen much less take notes, and some weren’t focused on learning or personal growth. That was certainly not the fault of our client. These behaviors are evident in most all groups who attend this type of session today. It doesn’t matter where they work or what part of the country they live in. It’s simply human nature.
These reactions make it difficult for those of us addressing these audiences. It’s so easy to get frustrated as you wonder just how many will benefit from your efforts. You sometimes feel as though you want to consider throwing in the towel. You never do, of course, for the sake of the few who truly want to learn and grow—but you sometimes feel like reaching for that towel.
That night, Albert from Albania, unbeknownst to him, actually encouraged me to reach for that towel. However, it wasn’t to throw it in … it was to wipe my brow, appreciate those like Albert, and refocus my efforts to always search every audience for my next “Albert.”
I finished packing up my things for the walk back to my hotel through the quiet, dark streets of late-night city … a bit of an appreciative tear in my eyes and a glowing warmth in my heart. Thank you Albert!