A New Dress (and Something More)

How do we know which of our words and actions – however small – will be the ones that stick with someone else? The ones they’ll remember and hold on to, despite that never being our intention or expectation?

That’s a somewhat rhetorical question, since the common advice is to live your life with an awareness that any small word or action could have a bigger impact on others than you might expect. But, of course, that’s easier said than done, especially when we aren’t aware of the impacts – both positive and negative – of our actions. Sometimes we only discover the impact they’ve had on others in hindsight. Sometimes we may never know.

But the rhetoric around “being aware of the impact your words and actions have on others” is more often applied to unintended negative effects on another than to positive ones. For example: an offhand criticism of another’s physical appearance may drastically impact their mental and physical health for years to come. Hopefully that’s an idea most of us have come to appreciate, and adjusted our behavior accordingly.

Today, however, I’m reflecting on times when someone’s actions have a far more positive impact than they may realize. When someone says or does something that makes me feel good or appreciated, I like to let them know. Gratitude and appreciation are emotions that, like many other positive emotions, I’ve found only to be amplified when shared with others. And hey, if I’ve made someone else happy, it feels good to know!

Which is why, sometime last month, I sent my dad a text to let him know I was wearing a dress he’d bought me seven years ago (pictured below in the selfie I sent him). It was a small action, in the grand scheme of things, but one that meant more to me than he probably realized.

My dad came home on a Sunday afternoon seven years ago with a huge Macy’s bag and a massive grin on his face.

“Girls,” he said, beckoning to Leslie and I, who were sitting on the couch, “I’ve got something for you.”

(For those who haven’t had the privilege of meeting my dad, he has been known to get excited about the smallest of things, so Leslie and I had no way of knowing if this surprise would be exciting for us or something we’d mostly appreciate for the joy it was giving our father.)

“I went to Macy’s to get myself some new work pants since mine were in need of an upgrade,” he said, rummaging through the massive paper bag, “and while I was there, I noticed these on display that I thought might be good for when you start your summer internships.”

He pulled out two dresses, one dark purple and the other teal blue. “I got you this one, Mads,” he said, handing me the blue one, “and this one for you, Les,” handing the other to my sister. “They are very different, but I chose them because I think they’ll flatter you both and suit your individual styles.”

(His interpretation of our “individual styles” is something I would love to understand, given that most of the clothes he wears are ones that my mom has purchased for him, but that’s for another time. And, for what it’s worth, the dress turned out to be extremely flattering; I get compliments every time I wear it.)

Aside from the fact he’d gotten us new work dresses (it was item of clothing I desperately needed, as you can imagine), it was the thought behind the action that makes me smile every time I wear that dress.

Growing up as identical twins who played the same sports, had the same friends, took the same classes, looked pretty much the same, and had otherwise similar tastes and preferences (Leslie has since taken an affinity to country music, so that statement is no longer applicable), it was rare that people recognized us as individuals. We were known as “the twins” or “LeslieAndMaddy,” and therefore consistently received similar gifts, were invited to the same parties, and included in the same group texts.

So it meant a lot to me that my dad had gone to the store and picked out two very different (in both color and style) dresses, because it implied that he’d thought of us as two separate people and, more importantly, recognized how different we were in many ways.

Since then we’ve gone on to major in different subjects at different universities, develop different friendships, and live in different cities. (It makes me laugh to realize some of my coworkers don’t even know I have an identical twin.) But that day, seven years ago, was one of the first times I remember being acknowledged as just “Maddy.”

So thanks, Dad, for giving me more than just a dress that day, and for a reason to smile every time I wear it.






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