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.

Do Some Good: An Uneven Journey

The notion that we should help those in need didn’t come to me easily; though my mother tried.

“Janet, you know Mr. Gull is in the hospital and Mrs. Gull has three young children, right? Can you think of any way you could help her?”

“I don’t know; maybe send a get well card?”

“Or maybe call and offer to babysit free of charge while she visits her husband? Maybe you should go call her. Now. It would be a big help to her and a kind thing to do.”

Closing The Witch of Blackbird Pond and donning my martyr mask, I slouched toward the phone.

On my own after college, I slid into total self-interest. Busy establishing myself in a career and new marriage, I thought I had no helping hands to lend; so I donated canned goods to food drives, gave at the office, purchased whatever children were selling, and felt virtuous.

Several years after my first marriage ended, I married a man who made community involvement a way of life and was surprised that I didn’t. Because Joel worked longer hours than I and still found time to volunteer, my “I’m too busy” argument sound silly.

dental careI heard about a non-profit organization that provided dental care to children based on their parents’ ability to pay. As a teacher, I’d known children who had difficulty learning because their teeth hurt, so I joined the board of the Northwest Colorado Dental Coalition and was soon able to speak intelligently about operatories, fluoride treatments, and the cost of x-ray machines.

Best of all, I liked knowing that after a visit to the clinic, children in the town I call home fell asleep without toothaches.

I discovered that serving others in any capacity — volunteer coach, hospital pink lady, reading buddy — widens your social circles, enriches your life, strengthens your community…and makes you feel good.

Have some thoughts
about serving others?
I’d be interested.

Recap of Comments on Aunt Beulah’s Recommendations

Dawna said Aunt Beulah’s recommendations hit home with her because she has had similar thoughts. She also felt Aunt Beulah’s ideas will help her stay focused on aging well. This response tells me that Dawna is way ahead of where I was at her age. I’ve no doubt she will age gracefully.

Mary offered the following thought about developing your talents and skills without worrying about how others may judge your efforts: “Thank you for reminding me to just take joy in the project and let the future take care of itself.” What a wonderful thought; one I agree with, but sometimes struggle to maintain.