There is a saying that no act of kindness is wasted. In a discussion, a number of friends thought the saying means that even if there is no result, no recognition or response in another person, an act of kindness reinforces empathy within ourselves. We are more likely to act with kindness in the future.
That may be true, but I go further. I don’t think any act of kindness is without result. I think the questions should be, How great an impact can each act make? How long can one resonate?
Several weeks ago I was in the grocery store the afternoon the second blizzard of the month started. The lines were long, tempers and perishable food supplies short, batteries nonexistent. I ended up in one of the long lines at the checkout counters. Ahead of me was a man who had piled his goods around his sleeping infant, whom I guessed wasn’t more than a few months old. I used a cart because cold weather had aggravated the pain from my back injury. The pink cane with a floral pattern that my husband bought so I could feel stylish was propped in the cart. (Shopping carts make excellent walkers.)
After I got my items out of the cart, I pulled my wallet from my handbag and promptly spilled coins onto the floor. I bit my lip hard to keep from crying, and the coins merrily rolled in every direction. Completely my fault: I hadn’t zipped that pocket the last time I had given or received change.
While I leaned on the cart, caught my breath, and tried to think how to crouch or lean over to pick up everything, the man put the few things he held into the stroller and said “Let me help.” The well-dressed, tidy woman behind me whose handbag was almost certainly not a knockoff put her few items on the surface and leaned over to pick up my coins.
Last, the elderly woman behind her stepped from her cart and shyly showed me the cast on her wrist. She said she couldn’t use her hand well but she would kick coins toward me. The other woman said No, could she kick them toward her?
The three people, none of whom I knew and none of whom I have met since, gathered all my change and smilingly gave it to me. The man with the stroller put the coins in the pocket and zipped it shut. We all smiled at one another and one by one went out into the snow.
I may never see those people again, but I will always be thankful to them. Their kindness reinforced my habit of making eye contact and smiling at strangers in lines with me. That memory of an afternoon in a supermarket in an average American town will continue to inspire me to look for ways to help others, both those I know and those I will never know.
It doesn’t matter whether we are thanked or acknowledged. Good is a power in and of itself, whether we gift it to others in small deeds or acts of heroism made at personal risk. I know people who rescue animals, others who volunteer at food banks, hospices, homes and schools for the disabled. I have some friends who support charities locally, nationally, internationally. We all matter. We all make a difference every day.
Together we weave the cloth of many different strands that supports us all. We prove that darkness, indifference, and evil do not overcome the acts of everyday people doing everyday things. We truly can, and do, hold each other up.
The smallest of kindnesses, picking up a disabled stranger’s coins, wasn’t really small at all.
Elizabeth Coolidge-Stolz/ (c) healingwoman.net