It was a blue sky day on an ordinary morning at the dentist’s office. Bright sunshine filtered through panoramic 6th floor windows, and in the distance, tall skyscrapers gleamed, catching the light over bustling city streets. I soaked it all in from a large vinyl chair, listening to the friendly voice of my hygienist.
Normally, it would be time for x-rays and a standard exam. But today was different. Since the doctor wasn’t quite ready, we seized the opportunity for a quiet, conversational chat.
Nothing too serious at first. A bit of small talk about the weather. Construction going on downtown. The perks of large windows and having an office with a view.
But ever so slightly, the direction shifted as Sandy pulled a cell phone from the pocket of her scrubs, and we moved toward a topic that carried undertones of love and kindness, though it would be a while before I recognized it for what it was.
“Let me show you a picture of my squirrel.”
Surprised, I watched Sandy scroll through several photos, pausing on a close up shot of the small, furry creature with wide eyes and a black mark behind his ear.
Now, if I’m being totally honest, the picture of a squirrel is not usually something that would grab my attention.
But what followed was an intriguing tale of country living and a dental hygienist with a big heart, along with unexpected perspective on a question that might be buried deep inside each one of us.
Let me explain.
It turns out that neighbors and extended family in Sandy’s small community outside the city know she can be counted on when it comes to animal rescue efforts. So when the friend of a nephew found an abandoned baby squirrel fighting for life, “Aunt Sandy” was the go to person.
And true to her nature of tending furry critters needing a little TLC, she was happy to help.
An outdoor shelter by the woods near her home became a clinic of sorts, and the large pen was filled with strategically placed limbs and foliage to create a natural habitat, fostering comfort and growth.
Sandy fed and nurtured. She took pleasure in the squirrel’s progress and strength, and the playful interactions they shared.
But then the day came to release her newfound pet back into the wild.
Questions bubbled to the forefront of her mind, and it was hard to let go.
Would he remember her? After gaining independence, would the squirrel ever return?
If so, how would she know it was him, when so many others scampered around the wide, open space of her property?
Intrigued, I listened to Sandy’s story from my perch near a dental tray, taken with her words, but not able to fully articulate why.
Looking back now, though, I think it’s because I heard more than just the story of a rescued animal. Beneath the surface of ordinary words, I sensed a tender heart longing to know her love made a difference, a woman who wondered if she was making a lasting impact.
And I identified with those feelings.
Because deep inside, where questions stir and simmer, isn’t that a longing we can all relate to, whether or not we ever give it voice?
The simple desire to know our contribution matters in life, and will resonate with those we touch long after being released into the world?
Maybe that’s why I understood what Sandy did next.
Before bidding farewell at the edge of the woods, her answer came in the form of Natural Instincts hair dye.
I know. Clever, right? Just a few drops of dark liquid behind the ear, and her squirrel was marked.
And to Sandy’s delight, the tiny pet returned over and over again in the days and weeks to come, flourishing after time spent in her care.
I couldn’t help but smile at photos of them together before it was time to move on and see the dentist. And while walking into the sunshine after my appointment, soulful thoughts began to settle in the quiet recesses of my mind, striking parallels to everyday life.
What if we could monitor the results of gentleness and servitude with a small bottle of hair dye?
Of course, it’s impossible. But think about it for a minute – Love freely given. Seeds sown in kindness.
What happens after they leave our care? Sometimes I wonder.
And maybe you do too.
But when I ponder the effect our actions have on the lives of others, I realize we may never know how deep the impact goes. And perhaps that’s the precious beauty of it all.
There isn’t a mark strong enough to measure the significance of hope, compassion and thoughtful encouragement to a weary soul. It might be an important defining moment, or even the pivotal point that transforms a life in need.
And it will come through the quiet generosity of people who care, releasing love and kindness into the world while feeling uncertain, just as Sandy did – watching, waiting, and wondering what will happen next.
They will carry a question, but rarely say it aloud.
“Did I make a difference?”
It hangs in the air, climbing and circling, then comes back down again, laying low when the answer isn’t always forthcoming.
But as I think back on my dentist appointment that morning several months ago, I believe there’s a simple takeaway for those of us who wonder if love leaves a mark.
Visible or not, love leaves a unique impression through the life we are called to live on this earth, and sometimes, it’s little things that make the biggest impact.
So please, don’t give up. The world needs what you have to offer.
And when the fruit of unselfish labor isn’t clearly seen, maybe it’s time to pause, take a step back and remember the dark, wide eyes of a baby squirrel whose life was saved by a compassionate caregiver.
Remember that generous acts of love are not wasted. And remember that small, scattered seeds of kindness are never in vain.
Perhaps more than you or I will ever know.