I only spent about three afternoons with the man, and he left an impression on me forever.
Some people are just like that. They leave an unforgettable impression which you will carry throughout your entire life.
There is something different about these people. Try as you might, you can never really put your finger on what it is. They seem quite ordinary when you break it down and look at the facts, but you still can’t shake the feeling that there is something extraordinary about them.
Maybe all of us leave impressions like this on at least a few people throughout our lives, but the really rare people spread this magic to more than just a few.
They invite you into their secret clubs for an afternoon or so, but you leave with the feeling that you have some growing to do. Somehow, they don’t make you feel inferior because of this, either. Whatever it is they know that you don’t, you haven’t yet figured it out. It inspires an endless pursuit of their great secrets.
The man I knew like this told me the secrets.
His name was Rex, and he could make you feel like you were exactly who you needed to be with nothing more than a smile. His skin was wrinkled, but it didn’t take away from his youthful energy. His hair was white with the wisdom of many well-lived years. His eyes shone with that glimmer of knowing a secret.
I met with Rex and his sweet wife, Jan, who carries the same legacy as him, to have coffee. If my memory is correct, this only happened three times. My dad is a contractor and had worked on their house. The couple heard about my sister and I and decided to invest some time and wisdom into us. Being the influential people that they were, I’m sure there are at least a hundred other people they could have given this time to, but they chose to give it to us.
Aside from his time, Rex gave me three things. Each told me one of his secrets to being an extraordinary person.
One. A Dental Mirror.
I keep it in my box of keepsakes on the top shelf of my closet. Rex was a well-respected oral surgeon who founded his own surgery group. He was the Medical Missions Dental Team leader on several trips he took to Nicaragua to give people dental care who otherwise wouldn’t have it. He had a bag of old, extra dental supplies leftover from these trips that he offered to my sister and I. I chose one dental mirror to remember him by.
The great secret found in this is simple: serve. To whom much is given, much is expected. Get outside of yourself. Use the gifts you’ve been given to help others. This is one of the unexpected places that true contentment is found.
Two. “The Black Dot.”
One afternoon at coffee, Rex handed my sister and I each a piece of paper. It had a story on it called “The Black Dot.” The story tells of a professor that handed his students each a white piece of paper with nothing more than a little black dot in the middle. He told them to write about what they saw on the paper. Afterwards, he read the responses to the class. Every last student had written about the black dot on the paper, but no one had written about all the white space around it.
The “black dots” of our lives — the negative things — are what we spend the majority of our time dwelling on. We think about them so much that we don’t even give the white space a second thought. We take all the good things, which far outweigh the bad things, for granted. One of the great secrets, then, is to simply focus on the good more than anything else. You don’t have to deny the bad things, but allow your focus to gravitate toward the good things.
Three. “Attitude is Everything.”
The last time I ever visited with Rex, he was 96 and dealing with a painful medical condition that had been going on for a while. You wouldn’t have known it, just by talking to him. His smile was still genuine and his mood was as chipper as ever. He gave me a spiral-bound booklet titled “Attitude is Everything.” He had used the booklet to teach his employees. The principles in it are so simple, but so life changing.
Filled with his own scribbled notes, the booklet explains that everything begins in your thoughts. It says, “The majority of people do not understand how important thoughts are, and leave the development of thought patterns to random chance.”
Your attitude — the way you think about something — makes or breaks it, and you are the one in control of it.
“You are the gatekeeper of your thinking,” Rex writes.
These three principles he taught me are incredibly simple, but I know I still have a lot of growing to do.
I keep the dental mirror, the piece of paper with the story, and the booklet on hand for when I need a reminder of how to live an extraordinary life like Rex — a man who lived like Christ.
The secret behind it all was that Rex didn’t make an unforgettable impact on the world because of who he was, but because of the God he knew.
This was a secret Rex knew was best told.