I remember asking my dad for help on a school project when I was a little dishwater-haired kid in elementary school. We were assigned to create a model of a Native American land, showing the arrangements of the different housing structures and the surrounding nature.
As soon as I told dad about the assignment, he whisked me off to Michael’s, where we loaded up on thick foam core, clay, hot glue sticks, paint, moss, and other fragments of wood and foliage for our masterpiece. He showed me how to sculpt the clay into rolling hills, and how to add texture with the greenery. I diligently poured my small heart into the creative process, painting a cerulean river from corner to corner across the foam foundation of my model. When my huts kept collapsing, dad patiently showed me a trick to place an object beneath the structure while the glue dried. When my work was complete, I couldn’t wait to share it with everyone. I had worked so hard, and I was proud of what I’d accomplished. I had created something special.
When I brought my artistic wonder to school, the teacher gasped. The other kids’ eyes widened to a background chorus of “whoa, cool!” The class was authentically entertained by what I’d created.
I looked around the room.
The other models were made of popsicle sticks leaning on top of crayon-colored poster board.
When I relive this story, a lot comes to mind. I feel compassion for the kids whose parents didn’t have time to help them with their project because they were working 2 jobs to make ends meet. Maybe some could barely afford the extra art supply expense. When you’re a kid, you don’t notice the kind of privilege you’re so lucky to have.
I also feel gratitude that I grew up in the 90s, when kids weren’t constantly comparing themselves to each other on social media. There was a lot more grace to simply recognize something as cool without calling a classmate a suck-up just for enjoying a project. It was OK to want to make something wonderful for other people.
Because of this, my biggest takeaway is how my dad taught me that making things special matters.
Creating a special gift or experience for other people is how we connect with the world. When we use our words or our hands to give someone an opportunity to smile or enjoy a moment of wonder, we’re giving the very best of ourselves. And when we help others to create something special, like my dad did for me, we empower them to make the world a more beautiful place.
It doesn’t matter if we’re creating a well-crafted school project, a moving novel, or a jaw-dropping skyscraper. When we commit to creating something special, we give others a reason to stand still in time and simply appreciate what they’re experiencing.
This is the legacy we leave in the world. The people who live on in our hearts forever are those who believe that special matters. It’s the grandma who makes your favorite special pot roast, the poet whose eloquent words take your breath away, or the interior designer who creates a space that envelops you in warmth and coziness. The feeling of experiencing something special is worth all the effort it takes to create it.
Be someone who believes that special matters.