Our role in shaping another person

Over the past few months, I started reading a variety of biographies and nonfiction. I've been reading about World War II U.S. Army Gen. Lucian Truscott and "Animal House" actor John Belushi.

It is interesting to see to how often a parent or grandparent can strongly influence someone's life even after that older family member has died.

The foundation stones that are laid, the seeds that are sown have an incredible impact for the good and sometimes for the not-so-good.

We all know this on some level, of course. We've seen it in our lives or at play in the life of a relative or friend. Even so, it can be helpful to be reminded of it from time to time. We have to remember that just as toddlers seem to pick up language by "osmosis," they also can absorb attitudes and values. They mimic our opinions and ways of doing things. They can mimic our beliefs, blind spots, ethics and approaches to life. Some of what we do gives them a boost; some of it hobbles them.

In a sense, they see themselves as we see them and can love themselves as we love them.

The flip side of this coin is that having children or grandchildren can goad us into being better people because of those little eyes watching us and taking their cues from us. Those still-forming minds and consciences are absorbing what we do, how we do it.

In the biographies I've been reading, that pivotal role isn't limited to a parent or grandparent. That role can be set by the example of an older sibling, aunt or uncle, teacher, coach or mentor. It can be a dear friend who comes along late in our life.

In so many ways, both known and unknown, more than just playing a role in someone's story, we're helping another person shape his or her own story. In some of those lives we don't affect just a particular moment but a lifetime of actions. Those actions might extend beyond the life of one person. For some, we may be an answer to a spoken or unspoken prayer.

Throughout our time on earth, God sends people into our lives, and He sends us into the lives of others. He offers us opportunities to help fill a void, to nurture a virtue or talent, to offer a word of consolation, encouragement or wisdom based on our experience.

He invites us to accept a hand from another person and to offer a hand to another person as well. And in doing so, we each continue on that journey home to our Heavenly Father.

Dodds and his late wife, Monica, were the founders of the Friends of St. John the Caregiver (fsjc.org). Bill is the editor of My Daily Visitor magazine and his latest novels are Pope Bob and The World's Funniest Atheist.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015