Rippling: Finding Meaning in a Turbulent World

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

― Maya Angelou

I stood in the hospital hallway. My son was just taken from me for an emergency surgery. I could not follow him. It made sense and it also made no sense at all. The helplessness made it difficult to breathe. I could feel every bit of my resolve to remain calm evaporate the moment he could no longer see me. Every internal structure that had held me together was imploding and collapsing, one after another. With nothing to hold on to, I was thrashing about inside, aware of it happening and unable to do anything about it.

Just then, one of the nurses left her nearby station and approached me. I don’t remember her face or her hair, just the look in her eyes as she met and held my gaze. I don’t recall what she said, just how gentle she was as she said it. Something about giving space. I think she may have called me “honey.” She drew the curtain for privacy. The exchange that lasted no more than 120 seconds somehow glued me back together. The thrashing subsided. It was people like her who now had my son. Okay. Okay.

What she did for me had rippled beyond these few moments. It continues to have a profound effect. It shaped how my family healed in the aftermath, my subsequent work and its direction. It influences what I do and say to the people I touch as a therapist, a mother, and a friend. I don’t fully realize what other impacts it had and will continue to have.

I first learned about the idea of rippling from Irvin Yalom, a brilliant existential psychiatrist, writer and professor. In his book, Staring at the Sun: Overcoming the Terror of Death, he writes:

“Rippling refers to the fact that each of us creates – often without our conscious intent or knowledge – concentric circles of influence that may affect others for years, even for generations. That is, the effect we have on other people is in turn passed on to others, much as the ripples in a pond go on and on until they’re no longer visible but continuing at a nano level.”

How we affect others endures even when we are no more. Rippling is a powerful response to the gloomy sense of meaninglessness some succumb to as a result of the recognition that nothing is permanent and none of us escape mortality. While our name may not remain attached to the ripples of our actions, that is beside the point. What matters is that in ways we may not realize, we leave something of ourselves as we inevitably influence the world around us. Just like that nurse who likely did not think too much of her ordinary and yet extraordinary act of witnessing and responding to a parent’s pain. If I ever have grandchildren, they will hear of this. Maybe one of them will choose nursing and medicine as their profession as an indirect result of my storytelling.

Everything we do changes us and those with whom we come in contact in some way. The effect may not seem large or noticeable, but it is always there. The ripples will go on to affect others. Rather than chasing permanence through prestige, recognition, or fame, we can ask ourselves: What matters to me? What ripples do I hope to make in my time here? Dr. Yalom shares that what we leave behind may include “your life experience; some trait; some piece of wisdom, guidance, virtual, comfort that passes on to others, known or unknown.”

Rippling is why I like to smile at strangers.

May the ripples we create in this New Year and beyond be a source of much meaning, comfort, and joy!

About Aga Grabowski, LCSW, PMH-C, CST (she/her)

I am a co-founder of Wildflower, a psychotherapist, a presenter and a consultant in the area of perinatal and reproductive mental health.  Many other aspects of my personal identity shape my clinical work: chief among them is the family and immigrant background which has informed my attunement to the psychological upheaval that accompanies major life transitions and to the many sociocultural forces that impact our lived experience.

In my clinical work, I am focused on helping people thrive and cope during periods of significant change, and particularly during journeys towards and through parenthood which may involve infertility, losses, depression, anxiety, and conflict.  I work with people from all walks in life. Clients I work with are some of the strongest, most resilient folks I know. They don’t always feel this way, and they come to therapy feeling raw, maybe lost, and certainly quite vulnerable. It takes courage to confront your pain and struggle. I view psychotherapy as a deeply collaborative process that aims to help you discover and tap into your strengths and resources.  You already have what it takes to feel better, be happier, face challenges – good psychotherapy basically helps you access all that. This can only happen if your therapist genuinely cares about and respects you and is invested in their own ongoing professional development and personal growth.

I have extensive training in perinatal and reproductive mental health, evidence-based treatment of mood and anxiety disorders, sex therapy, and trauma.  I earned my bachelor’s degree in international studies at the University of Chicago and obtained my master’s degree in clinical social work at the University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration.  I often present on topics related to mental health. I am an AASECT-certified sex therapist and a certified perinatal mental health clinician. My most valuable learning experiences come from my clients: their experience, wisdom and perspective have shaped my clinical practice the most, something I am deeply grateful for.

LCSW License Number:149016046
Type 1 NPI Number: 1841631132
Accepts: BCBS PPO and BlueChoice plans, Lyra, self-pay and out of network clients


Selected training and affiliation
AASECT-Certified Sex Therapist
Certified Perinatal Mental Health Clinician
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) Training
Bringing Baby Home Educator Training, Gottman Institute
Circle of Security Parent Educator
Supportive Parenting for Anxious Childhood Emotions (SPACE) training
Gottman Method Level 1 training
Dialectical Behavior Therapy Training

Key beliefs
People are stronger and more resilient than they often realize.
Our culture teaches us to be fiercely independent. To thrive, we need to embrace being interdependent -- deep connection with others is essential for happiness.

More about me
I love the outdoors and hiking, camping, kayaking.
I can’t live without chocolate.
I feel grateful every day for getting to do the work I love.