Someone sent me an email about a gas station in South Africa, where the owner posts daily “inspirational” quotes on a chalkboard in plain view of customers and passing drivers.

The email included some of the quotes, such as:

• “It’s better to walk alone than with a crowd that’s going in the wrong direction.”

• “When you forgive, you heal. When you let go, you grow.”

• “I am a woman. What’s your superpower?”

• “If you had to choose between drinking wine every day and being skinny, what would you choose? Red or white?”

• “In a world where you can be anything, be kind.”

Most of the quotes were thought provoking, even the funny ones. OK, especially the funny ones. But one quote was, for me, an entirely new thought:

“Be who you needed when you were young.”

What does that mean? Is it suggesting we should be the kind of person we needed when we were young -- for ourselves? Or that we should do it for our children and grandchildren and other young people we meet?

Maybe we should do it for all of us, young and old alike?

Here’s another question. Do you think it’s possible that the kind of person we needed when we were young is also the kind of person we are meant to be?

Perhaps you’re wondering, with all the problems in the world, why would I choose to give so much thought to a quote from a gas station chalkboard?

I wonder that, too. But it’s not really a choice. Sometimes when my train of thought leaves the station, I just have to jump on board and see where it takes me.

I’ve been riding this train for days, thinking about a person I needed when I was young.

My mother worked shifts at a mill, had four children, eight sisters, a demanding mother and little time for friends.

But one day when I was 12, I came home from school and found her on the porch sipping sweet iced tea with the prettiest lady I had ever seen.

“Hello, child!” said the woman, cupping my face in her hands as my mother introduced us. I was hopelessly smitten.

Her name was May, a perfect name for someone as lovely and warm as the finest day of spring.

Short dark hair, curled just so. Red lipstick. Brown eyes that lit up like fireworks when she smiled. And she smiled a lot, it seemed, especially at me.

She was my mother’s friend, but she became what I needed: A role model, a confidante and a grownup friend whose wise counsel I could always trust.

In the next few years, I spent as much time as I possibly could with May, sometimes overnight at her home, talking, laughing, crying, whatever, just being together. I told her everything, all the things I feared, all the things I hoped for and especially all the things I didn’t know.

I watched her the way a cat watches a butterfly. How she listened and encouraged and never spoke ill of anyone, even if they had it coming. How she was always compassionate and kind, not just to me, but to everyone, even strangers.

She was a woman of faith and grace and integrity, with a quick wit and a grand sense of humor.

I wanted to be just like her.

After I left home for college, May moved away and I never heard from her again. Years later, when I tried to reconnect, I was shocked to learn that she had died. I had been so sure that she would live forever. I don’t know if I told her how much she meant to me. I hope so.

How many souls do you think leave this world never knowing what they meant to someone?

Sometimes the best reminders come from unlikely places. Thanks to a quote from a gas station chalkboard, I thought of my friend May, someone I needed when I was young and still hope to be just like.

We don’t always mirror people we admire. But remembering them reminds us to keep trying.

Contact freelance columnist Sharon Randall at P.O. Box 416, Pacific Grove, CA 93950 or randallbay@earthlink.net.

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