Maybe Alex’s big brown eyes draw people in. At age four, he gets a lot of comments still like, “he’s so cute.” But as adorable as he is, I’m pretty sure the reason he is so likable to those he encounters is his willingness to engage with people first. Picture a little boy, head cocked back as he attempts to peer over the cash register counter so that he can ask the person helping us, “What’s your name?” Every. Single. Time.
He first started this habit on our spring break trip last year when we visited Washington, DC and New York City. While we walked most of the time in those great cities, with four children, we ended up taking numerous taxi and Uber rides as well. Alex is our youngest child, but that did not stop him from inquiring of each driver, “What’s your name?” We heard a range of names from Omar to Buddy. Alex tried to repeat every name, even the more exotic ones we heard.
His affinity for asking this most basic question only continued when we came back home to Texas. Many of the people to whom he poses the question wear nametags, but because he cannot read yet, he asks. He asks the folks who work the drive-thru’s, check out the groceries, and stock the gas station shelves.
Often, his inquiry catches the other person off guard. They will knit their brows, pause, and at times, look at me for confirmation that they heard him correctly. They seem puzzled that anyone, let alone this little person, is bothering to talk to them in more than a cursory manner. Once the momentary surprise vanishes, the person will fill in the blank, “My name is Steve, or Miranda, or Robert.” We even know another Alex, which completely delights my Alex.
And then, the person looks down at Alex, and asks in return, “What’s your name?” He responds, “I’m Alex.” Almost without fail, the other person will say some version of “nice to meet you Alex,” with a smile on his or her face.
We happen to be creatures of habit, visiting the same stores again and again. After Alex has his initial conversation, the clerks will say “Hi, Alex” upon our inevitable return. They seem to enjoy seeing him again and will talk to him while we get our drinks or snacks. Their relationship becomes a two-way street.
By being outgoing, Alex has set the foundation to build an ongoing relationship with each person. He has opened a door of friendship because he sees them, he is interested in them, and he recognizes their worth as a human being. By returning Alex’s curiosity with their own, the people we meet are bolstering a little boy’s confidence. They are teaching him how to be a good member of his community, that if you reach out in kindness, you will receive kindness in return. My little boy’s repetitive act of compassion, while small, touches on the deeply held desire that each of has to be known. His simple question impacts his world, my world, and that of the people he meets, in a beautiful way, making all of our daily lives just a tiny bit brighter.