Leaving the grocery store with my flock of littles, I saw a man struggling unsuccessfully to herd his full cart in the right direction while attempting to balance a box under his free arm. As the cart broke loose and careened toward a parked car, I saw his face fill with panic as he awkwardly tried to prevent the inevitable. I wasn’t the only one watching, yet evidently the only one inclined to act, and with a swift movement to my right (I credit my yoga pants), I was able to grab the cart before it collided with a shiny sports car. He thanked me, we briefly exchanged pleasantries, and I resumed my task of loading up my kids and groceries. Once inside my car, I heard a small voice from the back ask, “Mom, who was that guy? I mean, how do you know him?”
I realized in that moment that my children were thinking that you only are kind to people you know. That naturally, there must be some give and take when it comes to kindness: a motive behind your actions that, because of familiarity with the recipient, necessarily will result in some benefit to yourself.
The realization catapulted me back to the front steps of my childhood home, looking quizzically at a disheveled man — who I now realize was only a teenager — standing forlorn in our front yard. I don’t know the story of how he arrived on our doorstep, but I do remember my dad arranging to purchase a ticket to send him home. He was a stranger to me, which as a child invoked an innocent fear and curiosity, and I couldn’t comprehend why our sunny day plans had been pushed aside so that my dad could give him a ride to a bus station. Yet, even in my immaturity and, though it was never really discussed, I understood that the action meant something. And as I grew, I came to recognize those actions, taken to validate the worth of another with no possibility of repayment, as pure human kindness.
Had I become so lax in providing this example to my children that an easy two-second interaction with a stranger was confusing? Had the hustle and bustle of my daily activities made me so self-focused that I’d become lazy in this virtue that is the very foundation of my Christian identity?
It was time to refocus. It was time to live kindly on purpose.
As we end this year of mercy, and the jubilee doors close, what if we all embraced a Year of Kindness? To take a year that was fraught by strangers inflicting harm on strangers (police brutality, terrorist attacks, riots and the like) and follow it with a year of strangers inflicting kindness on strangers. To do our part to win back this world for Christ one simple action at a time, injecting the dark with brightness and harmony.
Every day is filled with unexpected opportunities to be kind. Not just grand gestures created by flying shopping carts or wayward teenage runaways, but simple interactions of friendliness or consideration: moments provided to us to acknowledge the worth of another and, in some unseen way, lighten a load. To use a smile or a “hello” to simply say, I know that you are here, I see you, and you are worthy of goodness. Even our short and mundane interactions with cashiers, passersby, and (gasp) telemarketers are occasions to live as Christ taught us and to validate the dignity of each human person.
Social media also provides endless opportunities to be kind to strangers. My Facebook feed and email inbox are often full of prayer requests for strangers and requests to donate to an individual or family in crisis. Whether it’s to assist a family as they rebuild after a natural disaster, alleviate some of the medical bills associated with a unexpected illness, or help to defray the unexpected costs of a funeral, your contribution, however small, especially acting in tandem with others, can have a lasting impact on easing some of the suffering in the world. And kindness doesn’t just equal money. A short note of prayer and encouragement can also provide validation and comfort.
Let us join together with the simple and everlasting purpose of being kind. And in doing so, may we “miss no single opportunity of making some small sacrifice, here by a smiling look, there by a kindly word; always doing the smallest right and doing it all for love.” (St Therese of Lisieux.)