When 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.
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.
In 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.