It’s nearing closing time here at the annual Cider Days Fall Festival at the Expocentre in Topeka, Kan., on Sunday.

It’s nearing closing time here at the annual Cider Days Fall Festival at the Expocentre in Topeka, Kan., on Sunday. During the last two days I have administered too many surveys to count for the Drive4COPD, a partnership of the American Lung Association, NASCAR and the COPD Foundation.

 As I stood, clipboard in hand, asking questions and recording responses, it was invigorating, as I had discussion after discussion with people, helping them to answer five important questions to determine their risk for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), now the fourth leading cause of death in the U.S.

Raising awareness through the five-question screener helped to evaluate potential breathing problems that might be caused by COPD, which is often referred to as emphysema or chronic bronchitis. It is a serious lung disease that slowly gets worse over time. While it cannot be cured, it is treatable. Early diagnosis is important and can slow the disease’s progress.

But even more important than helping people complete these screenings were the interactions with fellow human beings just trying to do their best, living in this sometimes confusing world of ours. In tabulating their scores, nearly every person began to share their life story with me. How they had a brother who served in Vietnam or Iraq, a father who just died of COPD, or that they had just quit smoking two weeks ago and hoped they could stick with it.

As their stories unfolded, I was pulled into their lives if only for fleeting moments. These are the exchanges I cherish. This is where souls meet other souls, acknowledging the value of the other in our inept humanness, and sometimes congratulating, encouraging, sympathizing, and, yes, sometimes tears fell as we stood in the midst of hundreds of people in the exhibit hall. We are all connected. And, if we only take those opportunities to ask people about themselves, we will be the better for it. And I realized more than ever that what people really want is to be heard, if only for a few brief moments – for someone to listen to their story.  

As the last pieces of candy sat there at my American Lung Association booth, I watched the passersby and gave away the last Drive4COPD matchbox NASCAR car, disposable nebulizers, pencils and stickers.  

I realized this past weekend was about the relationships forged that will make for a better neighborhood, community, city, county, state and country. And just before tearing down the booth, I awaited the arrival of a teacher who was going to pick up our (real) pig lungs to be demonstrated at her class on Monday.

Then, I packed up the booth and stopped by Annie’s Place on Gage Street to buy that chocolate crème pie. I vowed to leave the pie intact in the back seat until I arrived home, walked through the front door and set the pie on the counter. After that, my son, daughter and I savored each bite. May all your days be happy ones – filled with heartful exchanges and, sometimes, homemade pie.