When I was a kid my grandmother often sent me newspaper clippings about topics related to what she’d heard me talk about in our most recent visit.  She didn’t always get the content exactly right, but it was clear that she was listening.  She was interested, and she was paying attention to who I was deciding I wanted to be.

The other day I was reading an article about a young professional chess player and thought maybe I’d make a copy of it for a 12 year-old I know who’s recently taken up chess.  There were parts of the piece I thought she’d be interested in.  But she doesn’t usually read much non-fiction, and the article is long. Maybe she’ll just be annoyed, I thought to myself.  I know it’s really annoying when someone assumes you want to read about something just because you like to do it.

But I also remembered the feeling I’d get when one of those envelopes of clippings would come from my grandmother.  I wouldn’t have been able to articulate it at the time, but each time she sent something it was as though she was saying “I’m interested in you and what you’re interested in.”  I sometimes read the articles, and I sometimes didn’t, but I always got that message.

So I’ll make the copy of the chess article, but I won’t say “You should read this.  It’s about chess.”  I’ll say something like this: “I found this article about chess that reminded me of you. It’s about a guy who got really really good at chess because he loves playing it.”

I don’t actually care whether or not she reads it; I don’t think it will have been a waste of paper or time if she doesn’t.  She’ll hear that there are people in the world who take chess seriously and she’ll know that I recognize her commitment to the game as an important part of who she is.