Sometimes You Get A High-Five From The Universe

I had about 10 minutes before my flight, enough time to grab one more cup of coffee. I had rushed to finish one more assignment on the floor of the Salt Lake City airport before my flight to O’Hare and somewhat tight connection to Zurich. Just as I was about to order a coffee, I heard a man behind me ask, “Are you Leonard?”

I turned, and a man and his wife stood looking at me, an open passport in his hands. He looked at it, then looked at me, then back at the passport.

“Yes,” I said, my mouth dropping. “Wow.” I reached out and he handed me the passport, my passport, that I had left on the floor a few hundred yards from the coffee stand. I had hurriedly unplugged my computer from its last North American electrical outlet, packed up my stuff and left my passport, boarding pass inside, sitting next to a potted plant in the busy terminal.

I said Thank You, then Thank You again, and the guy and his wife smiled and walked on their way. I said Thank You 10 more times in my head, stuffed my passport and boarding pass back in my backpack, and ordered a coffee, sighing and shaking my head in disbelief that I left my goddamn passport on the floor of an airport minutes before the start of a three-week work trip.

And that guy saw it, picked it up, and walked around the terminal for a couple minutes trying to find a guy who looked like the guy in the photo, and handed it to me, no questions asked, no expectation of any reward, just doing the right thing on his way to the baggage claim. I did my best to communicate my gratitude, but how do you thank someone for saving you from thousands of dollars in airline tickets, days of stress, missed schedules, maybe identity theft? I should have given him a bear hug right there at the coffee stand.

My friend Mick told me he had a friend who said, “I used to think I was gonna change the world. Now I just let people onto the freeway.” I always loved that line, because I think it says something about what people can do to make other people’s lives better—all those little things that don’t make the evening news.

Most days, I think that most people aren’t going to save the world in the way we usually think of that phrase, save the world: feed starving children, rescue families from burning homes, start a nonprofit that helps people find a new start.

But then I think about people like that guy who handed me back my passport, or you, when you find someone’s wallet at a restaurant and give it to the manager, or pick up a dropped pacifier for a someone who’s holding a baby and trying to juggle three other things, or let someone in front of you in line at the grocery store when they have two items to buy and you have 25, I think Yeah, maybe everyone’s going to save the world.


More stories like this in my new book, Bears Don’t Care About Your Problems, out now.

20 replies on “Sometimes You Get A High-Five From The Universe

  • GaryG

    Nice, Brendan. Reminds me of a scene in “Vanilla Sky” where David (Tom Cruise) says, “The little things… there’s nothing bigger, is there?”

  • Joe

    Keep paying it forward my friend! I’d bet that guy was from Iowa. We’re all nice like that.

    Thanks for always making my Thursdays better with you writing!!!

    Joe in Iowa

  • songsta

    this post has reminded me that i believe in karma and that little things count and has inspired me to spread seeds of kindness as often as possible. thanks

  • Matt Alford

    Good piece Brendan! I especially like the the sentiment about changing the world. We can to a whole lot more to improve our lives and the lives of those around us by the small daily acts of kindness, generosity and honesty than we will ever do swinging for the fences.

    Thanks for the reminder.


  • Mark

    I once was shooting an assignment of locals camping out overnight on a parade route to save their spots. I stopped to photograph a young family playing cards, chatted for a while, then moved on down the street looking for more. When I found another interesting group I asked if I could enter their large canopy, reached for my camera and found it wasn’t there. My heart dropped and I sprinted back up the street praying that $6,000 of camera was where I thought I’d left it. Sure enough, the family was still there, playing the same game, camera sitting by their table. Massive relief, they’d saved my world.

  • Scott

    I hear you, Semi Rad. Just the other day, someone scrambled out of a bus a moment before it was to pull away from the stop and handed me the set of small panniers I’d left on the floor! Damn, did that save me from a ton of aggravation or what? Saved my world that day. Thanks for making me think of that again.

  • Dan

    Thanks man, I needed that. Makes me feel more positive about a rather downer day. Pay it forward for collective smiles.

  • Debi

    Another awesome “upper” article – Brendan, making the world a better place, one article at a time 🙂

    …and have you all noticed that when you do something for someone else, it brightens your day too!

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  • Chris @ Mindful Explorer

    Don’t be an ass
    Smile more
    Be good at being a human
    Thanks for this reminder Brendan that our simple positive actions add up to something greater. Have a safe and enjoyable trip as you leave on this positive experience behind you.

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