This week’s eNewsletter Feature
was written by Julie Ruchniewicz
FPCE parish nurse.
Earlier this fall I attended the funeral for Elinor Smith, one of our congregants. She was a lady of grace, intelligence, and determination, who spoke her mind without hesitation. I knew her in her aging years and only as much as her private self would let me in.
It was a beautiful service with many speaking highly of Elinor, her family, her accomplishments, and her faith. There were stories that highlighted the drive she had – even as a young girl – to be well educated and to help provide that right to others.
One woman’s story about Elinor especially touched me. She spoke of how Elinor had served as a “Balcony Woman” in her life, a term I had never heard before. She gave accounts of Elinor’s generosity in offering encouragement, praise, and a general sense of positivity throughout their relationship. In life, she explained, her dear friend Elinor cheered her on from the balcony.
Since the memorial, I have reflected on that story, and I have thought about how important it is to pay someone honest and sincere compliments while they are living, not just in eulogies and conversations at a funeral after they are dead. The time for us to say good–often life-changing–things to another person is while they are living.
I have taken a great liking to the phrase “Balcony People.” In my research of this little-known term, I found a short and sweet book that helps clarify. It is called “Balcony People” by Joyce Landorf Heatherley. It’s a quick read with thoughts and examples that really make you think about yourself, the people in your life, and our overwhelming need for affirmation.
The word balcony is defined as, “a projecting gallery in a theater or public building.” When you sit in a balcony you are sitting above the crowd and have a great view of the room. The author says people in the balcony of our lives have personal qualities allowing them to rise above the many negative people we may encounter every day. Balcony people are positive, and the way they speak to us and treat us makes us feel special.
By comparison, the word basement means, “The part of a building that is wholly or partly below ground level.” When you are sitting in a basement you are under everyone, and it is impossible to see what is going on above you. The author uses the word basement to describe people whose personal qualities grip them in negativity. The “basement people” in our lives lean toward criticism and make us feel worthless or unimportant.
I have a personal question for you: Do you have more “balcony people” or “basement people” in your life? No matter your answer, we can all agree that we need some “balcony people” in our lives every day. My “balcony people” help me get through the routines of ordinary living; both the negative and the positive.
The author shares with us that “balcony people” meet you where you are in life. They always see the best in you and envelop you in kindness, support, and good advice. They are easy to recognize because they are your fans, cheering from the balcony, just waiting for you to do great things.
While God is our ultimate “balcony person”, I considered others playing that role in my own life and my dad was top of mind. He could talk to anyone, and they immediately felt like the most important person in the room. If you asked my dad how he was, he always replied, “Better now that you are here.” This short, but thoughtful, sentence shifted the focus from him to you and made you feel special.
Another question: Will you be remembered as more of a “balcony person” or a “basement person?” I confess that sometimes I am too caught up in my own welfare and achievements to be the cheerleader for those close to me. I try to be well meaning but may compare others to my own standards. This notion, that there are people who build you up and ones that tear you down, gave me pause to really reflect.
My new personal goal is to aim at encouraging others with kindness and respect, not because I think they necessarily deserve it, but because they are a worthy human being. I hope this leads to me becoming an affirmer, what an honor to be among someone’s “balcony people.”
I wish you a Happy Thanksgiving and in this season of gratitude and giving, just take some time to contemplate how you are seen by others. We are not a perfect people, but in the trying we can be better at being “balcony people”. And just maybe respond to someone’s, “How are you” with “I am better now that you are here.”
So encourage each other and build each other up, just as you are already doing.
– 1 Thessalonians 5:11
FPCE parish nurse