Random Acts of Kindness

images-8When I first started Aunt Beulah with its focus on living well to age well, I fretted about the categories I’d chosen, especially one inelegantly titled, “Do Some Good.” Worried that posts about serving others would seem preachy or self-righteous, I pictured my no-frills great-aunt hooting dismissively as she wiped her hands on her apron front and thought, “The girl should quit writing about good deeds and actually do some.”

I also knew that when I overcome my hesitant, slightly sluggish nature and manage to do something thoughtful for others, I am a happier person.

After weeks of thinking I should visit a neighbor confined to a nursing home — and feeling virtuous for having such a worthy intention  — I realized that planning to serve others and not following through was as ridiculous as my junior-high habit of pretending to play my clarinet while parading because I couldn’t tootle and march at the same time.

So I called the home, asked about the best time to visit, and showed up. My neighbor’s openhearted happiness when I entered her room shamed me. Why had I hesitated to do something we both enjoyed so much?

Serving others needn’t be public or epic; we can’t all endow a library or live like Mother Theresa. The small acts of random kindness we read about on bumper stickers can be as gratifying and meaningful as grander gestures.Unknown-6

My dad understood this. He quietly helped those who needed it by giving what he could: his time, his work, his resources. I remember eating Kentucky Fried Chicken in a city park during a family trip when a man with bleary eyes, matted hair, and an unpleasant odor approached us. “I’m hungry,” he said.

To my open-mouthed dismay — I’d been about to help myself to seconds — Dad took the bucket of chicken, loaded in the uneaten fixings, and handed it over along with a folded bill. The man left without comment; I looked pained; Dad finished his plate of food, and Mom smiled at him in that special way she sometimes did.

I also see strangers demonstrate kindness.

images-9In July, I was propping up the toppling daisies in my yard when a large dog ran headlong out of an alley and into a pickup truck before the driver could brake or swerve. The dog yelped and rolled, then tried to get to his feet. The driver stopped, jumped from the truck, and approached the animal as his wife rolled down her window, saying, “Oh, I hope he’s not hurt.”

Speaking quietly and calmly, the young man carefully ran his hands over the animal’s body, then checked the tags on its collar. His wife was on her cell phone calling the owner, when the dog jumped up and took off in a limping run, disappearing around the corner. The last I saw, the dog was trotting along the sidewalk with determination while the truck traveled slowly alongside, watching over him, seeing him home.

The scene could have played out many different ways had not a young couple taken the time to postpone their plans and do some good.

23 thoughts on “Random Acts of Kindness

  1. You have moved me to take action. I called an elementary school in a largely Hispanic neighborhood to offer my services as a volunteer. I’m waiting for a call back to see whether I am needed–but at least I took the first step!


  2. Thanks Janet for the well said food for thought- This morning I slightly scarfed at a co-worker who found a mangled rat in her yard, scooped it up in a box and took it to the local wildlife rehab, expecting them to feed ratty to the owls. The rehab person said they would tend it till well, then give it to the S.P.C.A. for adoption, it was a rat-rat, not a pet rat. I have a bad history of rats. Did I lack empathy for a person who fears the homeless, but will stoop to help a rat? P.S., see “The Things They Carried” on the banned book list, this day has been bewildering. You are a fine, kind person, thank you.


    • I always delight in your point of view, Sheila, and your unique way of expressing them. I’m with you on rats vs. homeless, and, since “The Things They Carried” is on my list of top twenty books, I’m bewildered by its banning as well.


      • Hi Janet- Better day today. The rat is in foster care, I got a new shelf at work to replace Wobbley Walter and all is good. Funny how your Dad gave the K.F.C. My Ma did the same with donuts. Thanks again.


  3. One of my greatest weaknesses is talking myself out of doing good. If I would just act and not over think, I would be a happier camper. Thanks for the wonderful reminder!


  4. What a thought provoking and enjoyable post Janet.
    Your dog story reminded me of when our spaniel was run over. The man who ran over Rummy delivered his wife to the hospital, as she was about to deliver twins, and he returned to see how Rummy was. We did appreciate his concern at his own time of crisis. Rummy recovered from this accident and the twins were born safely!


  5. Thanks for the reminder that many times it’s the little things we do—the almost-forgotten gestures—that can mean so much to a person or an animal in need.
    I wonder why we sometimes feel so awkward or inhibited about helping others? Human nature?
    Anyway, thanks for another thought-provoking post!


  6. My problems that I worry that I’ll be intruding, Rita, but I’ve gradually learned that usually isn’t true, and when it is, it’s not a big deal. People usually handle it well and I can take a hint.


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