Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.
- Leo Buscaglia

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Responding in the Moment

     As I think about the acts of kindness that I've done this year, it occurs to me that they can broadly be divided into two "buckets."  Many of them I might call "surprises" in that I offered a totally unexpected kindness to someone, often a complete stranger.  Providing a Starbucks gift card, giving someone flowers, bringing hot chocolate to school crossing guards, or delivering pretzels to the firehouse all fit into this category.  Other acts, while they still might not be expected, are done as a direct response to a perceived need.  Driving a cancer patient to a doctor's appointment, helping someone with their groceries, buying diapers and baby supplies for teen mothers, or even picking up trash at a playground are all examples of this.
     Each type of act has its own impact (and its own reward).  It's fun to light up someone's face and really make their day with a surprise gesture of kindness.  It can change their whole orientation to the world which, in turn, can change what they do.  On the other hand, there's nothing quite like seeing a need that I can fill, and just going with it.  Often it's catching someone at a vulnerable point and doing something to make a difference.
     Today's act was a very simple gesture that was a response to seeing a need. I was coming out of a 7-11 store and as I approached my car I noticed an older, heavyset woman struggling to the curb.  She had trouble walking and, believe it or not, negotiating the high curb that separated the parking lot from the sidewalk in front of the store was a major challenge.  Seeing her struggle, I immediately walked over and offered my help.  I let her lean on my shoulder and assisted her up to the sidewalk.  She was so appreciative of the help and thanked me several times.  It was one of those small moments that really are the essence of kindness.  It was also a good reminder that we don't have to do anything creative or magical or expensive.  Simply looking out for one another and offering a helping hand when needed can be more powerful and meaningful than a more elaborate gesture.

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