Pippa Passes and So Do We

Pippa Passes, by Robert Browning

Mamacita says: Welcome to my TEDTalk. Something Joe Trester wrote a few days ago has stayed with me. People, we never know what kind of influence we have on others whose existence we barely know about. Robert Browning’s “Pippa Passes” is about a sweet, naive young mill girl who, on her only day off for the entire year, strolls through her village making a positive impression on people without even knowing it. She walked by, maybe exchanged a word or two, and was gone out of their lives, never to return, and yet, their lives were changed by this sweet, smiling, singing, naive girl, for the better.

Pippa’s song

As I re-re-re-re-re-re-read “Angel in Heavy Shoes,” part of Lenora Mattingly Weber’s YA series about Katie Rose Belford, who was studying “Pippa Passes” in her high school lit class, I am really affected by Katie Rose’s realization that while it’s not hard at all to imagine a sweet young girl having this kind of influence on others, it’s also true that people who are not sweet, not naive, not young, not nice, and not even civil can have the same effect. In this book, a character just out of reform school, by just being himself and existing, has a positive influence on almost every other character in the novel. All of us walk past others without thinking about them, every day. (Well, not right now, but ordinarily.) They would see us, maybe hear us, and who knows whether or not an overheard word or a smile might influence someone positively, even save a life. I’ve been influenced by strangers in public, in both positive and negative ways. I can remember things someone said years ago, even today. Even if we don’t actively remember, the mind never lets go of a thing. It’s in us and affecting us when we don’t even realize it. Likewise our words and smiles on others, people we didn’t even notice and couldn’t pick out of a lineup.

Pippa, passing.
Pippa passing

During these parlous times, when people are so quick to pass judgment (mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa) let us try to remember that the scope of influence is larger than we can imagine. Let us try harder. Pippa had one day off for the entire year, and inadvertently influenced many strangers in a positive way by just walking around and being herself. Many of us have been off for weeks. (maybe all our lives – none of that, now!) Tempers are flaring. Frustrations are building up. None of us is the same person we were a month ago. Being ourselves is harder because we’re learning who this new self really is.

Do I have to have a point? I guess I can drag one in by the hind legs and just say, “Let’s all try harder to be better tomorrow than we were today.” It’s difficult, but not impossible. We can at least try.

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