There’s an elderly man in my neighborhood who often walks by my house, sometimes pretty slowly—really more like shuffling. When I’m out in the yard with Betty The Wonderpup I’ll give him a little wave, and he’ll usually wave back. I’ve tried talking to him, and his responses are minimal, almost as if talking confuses him. He seems happy, though, so I haven’t really given this much thought. Until recently.
On trash days, I noticed that my trash bin was being moved up my driveway to the garage, which saves me a trip to the street to move it myself. I thought this might be the work of the city trash collectors, as they’ve been known to do this kindness if they think the homeowner is elderly, which used to be the case at my house before I moved here.
The plot thickens. It seemed that each time the trash bin had been brought to the garage, my neighbor had walked by earlier. It happened too often to be a coincidence. It was him all right. And no matter how often I look out the window on trash day to try to catch him in the act—and thank him—so far he’s eluded me. But I’m very touched that even if he’s forgotten how to communicate, or doesn’t have much to do other than make his way around the block, this sweet man remembers quite clearly how to show someone a kindness.
I like to write about random acts of kindness each year in the hope that they remind and inspire us to keep kindness in our hearts, and that the unexpected quality of such acts holds a deep and memorable place in the experience of the receiver. Then we pay it forward, and everyone wins: the doer, the receiver, and anyone witnessing the act. And for a brief moment, humanity feels humane again, and we remember how simple it is to put a smile on someone’s face.
This year, I offer a few of the stories some of you have shared with me, epitomizing the spirit of giving.
• A young man, home from college this past summer, earned income by tending to the lawn of an elderly couple. After a few weeks, he noticed a nearby house had grass that was growing out of control, and, needing all the money he could get, he wondered if he might have another potential customer. He discovered that the woman living there had recently suffered a heart attack, and her husband was occupied caring for her. Their lawn was simply no longer on his list of important tasks. So the young man cut their lawn for them—not just once, but all summer long. He did this without fanfare, without accepting a dime, and originally without even telling them he would take care of it. He just felt it was the right thing to do.
• At a local take-out eatery, a very young, very pregnant girl was looking into her wallet, which held only a few dollar bills. At the counter she asked the cashier the cost of their famous and mouth-watering breadsticks. It turned out she didn’t have the money for the minimum order of six. So she asked the cashier if it would be possible to only order three. The cashier had seen her looking in her wallet and, without a word, turned around, bagged up six breadsticks, added the sauce (an extra cost), and a cup for a beverage. She handed the order to the pregnant young woman, rang it up, then reached into her pocket and put her own money in. The tears in the young woman’s eyes provided all the thanks she needed.
• A mom wrote in and told me about the day she and her 6-year-old son were heading home from school, leisurely enjoying the scenic route on an old, winding country road, when he suddenly and firmly said, “Stop, Mom!” Thinking he needed an urgent potty break, she pulled the car over. The young boy got out—but not to dash into the bushes as she’d expected. Instead, he bent over to pick up a baby turtle and move it to the safety of a creek along the side of the road. Mom was pretty proud that day.
So, now it’s your turn. Whether it’s the holidays that bring out the kindness in you, or you offer your generosity to others year ’round, I encourage you to make random acts of kindness just another, routine, perfectly natural part of your day. The extra change you put in the meter, the offer to babysit for the stressed-out new parents next door, the Saturdays spent volunteering at the Community Kitchen, or simply the compliment you pay to the college kid bagging your groceries…let ’em flow! And know that the world is just a little bit brighter, and more hopeful, because today, no matter your own problems, you chose to be kind.
Until next time: “Just give everybody the chance to have the life they want.”