This isn’t one of those blog posts praising the benefits of business networking.
Instead, this one is personal.
Yesterday, I got word that a friend passed away. News like this always is very saddening, but peel this back one more layer and underneath, a life-defining story is revealed.
I met this person at a business conference. We had traveled separately as representatives in the tourism industry to the world’s largest travel tradeshow, World Travel Market. Our lives connected as the Oregon delegation shared a booth at this show, and I was there promoting the Portland Oregon Visitors Association. She was an elder from the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Reservation and attending on behalf of the Tamástslikt Cultural Institute on the reservation.
If you’ve ever attended a tradeshow, you know that there is a constant flurry of business going on, but then there are those long gaps in between where things quiet down.
That’s when Cecelia Bearchum and I got to know each other.
Normally, most of us are so busy most of the time that when we meet someone with whom we have a connection, it is a fleeting moment. Then our lives propel us forward and we fail to invest the energy into cultivating this new friendship.
When we do take the time, what we gain can be immeasurable and incredibly rewarding.
I am incredibly grateful that Cecelia and I made the effort.
During the pauses in the trade show in London, we sat together and shared stories. Laughed a lot. Discussed issues. A bond formed.
Later, enroute to a reception that our delegation was hosting, despite the fact that Cecelia was in full tribal regalia and in her mid-70’s, no cab would take us the short distance because of the fare, so we were forced to walk the 13 blocks to the event location. I remember being as concerned for her as I would have been for an elderly family member in the same situation, staying by her side, helping her over the big curbs, and holding her arm as we went over uneven cobblestones.
When we returned home and settled back into our lives at opposite ends of the state, I was very surprised to receive a package several weeks later. Inside was a beaded keychain with a Native American design with my name on it.
It was from Cecelia.
I was deeply touched. This was no ordinary keychain- it was one that had been handcrafted and personalized. It was intimate. Cecelia later told me that she had specifically picked out the colors used as she felt that they matched my spirit.
What Cecelia taught me in that moment is that when we take the time to build friendships, it becomes a moving experience. We each impact the other, and this can teach us important lessons about the other person as well as ourselves.
With Cecelia, I got re-schooled in respect for elders and also opened my heart to be more generous, giving back whenever I can… when others least expect it. I’ve become a better person because of it.
Since then, we have kept in touch through letters and cards, and I was able to visit her when I was in Eastern Oregon.
The lesson here is that in our mad dash to make connections that help us in our careers, it’s not often that we meet people like her in our lives who act as spiritual and moral guide posts that remind us of who we are and what we COULD be.
Maybe it’s because we aren’t taking the time to let them in.
Maybe we need to make that time... you never know where that can lead.
Personally, I can definitely say I am a better person because I met Cecelia.
And about that keychain… since receiving it, it’s been in daily use and never been taken off the key ring. It’s a little worn, but is a daily reminder of her generosity and how I can be a better me.