A couple of weeks ago, I received a phone call from my mom, a not-unusual and always-welcomed thing. What was remarkable about the conversation was coming away with a confirmation of a belief that I have long held as a simple, lovely truth: that our small kindnesses may go on to have a lasting effect on another person, which makes it even more important and worthwhile that we are mindful to be generous with our words of support and admiration as we go through our days. This is just a small story, but it certainly means the world to me.

When I was back in Wisconsin last summer visiting my mom at her home, my daughter and I decided to stay on another week to hang out, go to the small town beach park, shop at some thrift stores, eat big bowls of ice cream, and watch the Olympics together on TV at night. It was really nice. One afternoon, we had some errands to run and my mom offered to drive us in her car. To be honest, I was a little nervous; after all, she is now almost 86 years old and I was concerned that her driving skills would be compromised with age. It worried me a bit, as I sat in the passenger seat next to her as she carefully started her immaculately-clean 20-year-old Mercedes station wagon, and even more so with my young child in the back seat, chattering away. Well, I thought, if it's really bad, I can just offer to take over, right? It's the inevitable, dreaded conversation every adult has to have with a parent at some point -- when it's time to "take away the keys" -- but I was hoping it wouldn't be, like, now.

I was waiting for compromise, signs of failure -- too slow, too fast, not smooth, not seeing things, running signs or lights, bad parking, anything. And as we drove along for awhile, I realized that she was actually doing a really great job. She had already made some adjustments to her driving of her own accord -- no more driving at night, no highways, careful to take quieter roads, and no radio on in case it would interfere with hearing an emergency siren or other important sounds. So as we finished up, and she pulled into her garage once again, I thought I would tell her that I thought she was doing an excellent job with driving, giving specific examples of why I thought so, and that I was really genuinely impressed. She looked so surprised at first, and then broke out into a huge smile, and thanked me.

Which brings us to the recent phone call. She got right to what she wanted to tell me.

"I just wanted to let you know how much what you said about my driving meant to me. I know that you would never say that unless you really meant it, and it's made me feel so much more confident. I feel now like every time I get in the car to drive, you are sitting next to me and smiling -- like you really are there! -- and it makes me feel proud and very good. Thank you."

What could I possibly say to that? It was hard not to cry. All I did was TELL her what I was already thinking, and I am so glad that I did.

It costs nothing to express our appreciation toward others, and it can mean everything to someone you know.

The new employee who nervously wonders if he is doing OK.

The child who struggles at school, but keeps trying to make a little more progress every day.

The senior on a fixed income who still manages to dress so nicely.

The teen who took hours and hours of her own time to train a puppy into a fine, loving companion.

The friend who has suffered great tragedy, yet can still find humor and light in each day.

All around you, amidst all the chaos and discord and discouragement of life, there are these small triumphs. Let them know you see, and let them shine.