Who makes you smile?

On Thursday I had a quick lunch in the city with a friend. We hadn’t caught up for ages, except at his 3 year old’s recent birthday party. The party was a lot of fun, but short on coherent conversations. (It was, however, long on the theme of “Oh wow! Check out the catbus cake!” – if you have ever seen My Neighbour Totoro, this cake was the catbus. It was spectacular. If you haven’t seen Totoro, SEE IT. It’s truly wonderful.)

It was delightful to see my friend and to trade whole sentences – uninterrupted by small, sugar-buzzed, bouncing people – while grazing from a sushi train (a new and delicious experience for me), but what really left me grinning like a loon was the way he treated me.

Although he is only a year or two older than I, he belongs in a distant, aristocratic and vastly more civilized era. He opened doors for me, wouldn’t seat himself until I was seated (which must have been a prodigious effort of patience on his part, when I spent what seemed like an age fussing with coats, bags, and far too many feet and thumbs). He ordered sake for me when I confessed I hadn’t tried it, and insisted on paying for my lunch. It was delightful and perfectly charming, and I felt cherished in no small way.

I know that it is terribly unfashionable, both to treat people this way, and to admit to enjoying it. But I think that these efforts to cherish and treasure people are vastly underrated. I have heard it argued that holding the door open is a weapon in a battle to subjugate women. That it is a subtle attempt to reinforce the notion that we are the weaker sex and unable to take care of ourselves. But I did not feel at all oppressed or belittled. I felt cared for. In the context of a friendship of mutual respect, it is simply gorgeous behaviour.

I always find it a little strange to be treated like a girl – being 185cm tall and having worked for years in a male-dominated industry and workplace, I am far more used to being treated like one of the boys. I am the kind of person who finds it quite difficult to ask for help, or even accept it when it’s offered, so being taken care of in this way was a slightly surreal experience. Nonetheless, it made my day, and still makes me smile every time I think about it.

Of course, there are any number of different ways to cherish people. When I was telling my husband the way I felt about this old-style chivalry, he asked if that meant I didn’t feel cherished by him (he is not the door opening, handkerchief-peeking-out-of-the-top-pocket type). His cherishing is perhaps more subtle, but nonetheless potent. He looks after me in hundreds of small ways (and quite a few large ones) on a daily basis. It’s all the ways he makes life easier, nicer, and more fun for me every day that leave me feeling cherished. He does not buy flowers (he hates to see them die), and although it took me a while to ditch the cinderella style “flowers=love” myth, I wouldn’t trade him for any number of flower-wielding, suit-wearing prince charmings.

Other people make those around them feel cherished by listening, paying attention and remembering them. My yoga instructor manages the startling feat of making every one of his students feel as though they are the reason he is there that day. I am convinced that every single person feels as though they are the centre of his focus.  In a room of 15 students, that’s a remarkable achievement. He remembers everyone’s preferences, adjusts his instructions to each person’s particular needs, and is always thrilled to see every person who walks through the door. He has a large collection of regulars who would follow him just about anywhere, and he thoroughly earns that loyalty.

Contemplating all of this has made me realise how many wonderful people there are around me, who pay attention to me and look after me in hundreds of different ways. Next time life is getting you down, try thinking about all the different ways people cherish you. Even better, see if you can think up some new and interesting ways to cherish others. Let there be more cherishing in the world.

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