A few days ago, a cousin of mine died unexpectedly. He was only 62. I read the obituary and realized there were a lot of things about him I didn’t know.

I wonder why his middle name was the same as my brother Gregory and why it was spelled the same way. Alan, not Allen. My mom said she just liked that name. I’ll have to ask my aunt for her reasoning.

I wonder what life was like as a U.S. Air Force military policeman stationed in the Azores, New Mexico, Montana, and Alaska and what it was like to be selected for the Air Force’s Volant Rodeo. I wonder what it was like to be a drummer in various Air Force bands.

I’ve always wanted to visit the Azores. He was there.

My brother Gregory died unexpectedly at the young age of 51. I wonder what life was like as a communications professional on the Ohio Turnpike. All I know is that when I was with him, the Ohio State Patrol waved at him…even when he was going a tad bit over the speed limit (or more than a tad bit). He kept their communications equipment working, and they respected that.

I wonder why he liked having birds in his house and why he watched WWE SmackDown. (Really, this is truly a mystery to me.) How he played his fantasy football and why he chose certain players. Why he was a crazy fanatic for Queen.

I wish I could sit down and talk to both of them about it. Now it’s too late.

It got me thinking…a lot.

You see, family is so very important to me. But, like others, I tend to get wrapped up in my own life, career, family and friends that are right in front of me. Not the ones that live across the country as has been the case for the past 40 years.

I’ve had an amazing life, family and circle of friends. I have been truly blessed.

But, I could have stayed better connected.

As I look around at current world and local events, I see a lot of fear, intolerance, disrespect, and even hatred. As a human population, we cannot seem to agree on anything. Even worse, we blame others for all the ills of the world…or at least what we believe are the ills of the world because they don’t represent our desires or our truth.

The fact of the matter is they never will. We are individuals with different desires and different truth. For me, it’s not about molding others to think and look like me, it’s about finding common ground…ways we can work together and compliment each other. It’s about understanding what makes others “tick.”

I left my corporate world because as a government/public affairs professional, it seemed we would never be able to reach common ground. We couldn’t lay aside our personal agendas to do what was right for the human population, our environment and our planet as a whole. We were so polarized it seemed there was no way out. We stopped respecting individuals and each one’s unique qualities.

I felt I couldn’t make a difference there.

But, I can choose today to start making a difference in my personal life. I can choose today to be a positive influence in other people’s lives. I can start with learning more about my family—far and near. I have about 40 years of catching up, but I think there’s time. And, you can bet I’ll be writing it all down in my journal so the next generation won’t have to wonder why Dad liked LSU football or what it was like to try out for the minor league in baseball (yes, he did). They won’t have to wonder what it’s like to make homemake noodles at Thanksgiving like Mom used to; they’ll be doing it and thinking about her in the process. They won’t wonder why we chose various professions and life paths.

I’m going to keep our family alive…because each one of them is an amazing person. Kind. Giving. Quirky. Smart. Talented. Unique.

Yes, we all have our thorns, but everyone does. I’m not focusing on them. They don’t matter. Maybe someday our society as a whole will figure that out. Maybe then we can start to treat each other with respect and begin to appreciate each other for who we are. Maybe then we can start appreciating each and every one of us for who we truly are. Because we are all important. We are all unique. We all matter.

Who’s with me? What will you do today to get to know the people around you better and to understand them better? What will you do to be the positive influence—the light—in someone else’s life?