Love is kind, St. Paul tells us. And oftentimes kindness costs us almost nothing, but brings great changes to the world around us. For this week’s tip on practicing mercy, here are three little stories from three different contributors, about how kindness went farther than expected.
1. An encounter on the shady side of the post office
Yesterday, I went to pick up some boxes at the post office. I’m making banana bread for one of my daughters, oatmeal cookies for the other, and chocolate chip cookies for my son. Nothing says “hi and I love you” like a care package from home filled with stuff you can’t buy.
I didn’t need to spend money so I left my purse in the car as I headed to the post office door. An older woman, lean and leathered from life as much as the sun, approached me. “Do you have any change? I just need 65 cents.”
It was an odd amount, but I honestly didn’t have a dime on me. I told her so and ran in to get my boxes.
Sixty-five cents. When I got back to the car, I rummaged through my purse to find the coins and brought them to her. She was sitting on the shady side of the post office, weeping.
“I didn’t have my money with me. Here’s 65 cents. Why do you need 65 cents?”
She wiped her face. I could see how beautiful she was as a young girl, and still was, as a tired worn thin woman. Why was she out here against a brick wall?
“Oh, it’s what I need for the shelter. I had the rest.”
Do shelters cost, I wondered, realizing I had no idea and should learn more about how the homeless cope. I asked her if she knew about the daily dinner offered at our church across the street. She nodded. “That’s why I’m here.”
I was going to ask her why she was crying. She volunteered. “I’m burying my mother tomorrow.”
“Oh! I am sorry.” She pocketed the change, and added, “My mom’s been gone all summer. They’re finally getting around to it. She’s been kept in a refrigerator all this time.”
It was clear this pained her to no end. “I have a ride to the service tomorrow; it’s in Arlington.”
I asked for her name and her mother’s name. She told me. I told her I’d keep her whole family in my prayers, and I left. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to do more, it was that I didn’t know what to do. I also knew I had other children to pick up, so I couldn’t linger.
The next day after I’d sent my younger kids to school, I googled this woman’s name. Ought I to go to her mother’s burial? I didn’t have a reason other than that I would want people at my parent’s grave site.
Google informed me the service was taking place even as I was looking for the information. So I couldn’t go, even if I wanted to.
Still, I wished I could do more for this woman whose beautiful face was stamped with grief for all sorts of reasons. So say a prayer today for her and her family. We won’t get to meet these women until we one day discover how big our family truly is, but we can still be a part of their lives, at least by saying a Hail Mary for their comfort, peace, and healing.
And I do have to go mail the care packages. I know which post office I will visit.
Sherry Antonetti is a former special educator and currently a freelance writer and mother of 10. She writes at Catholicmom.com and her blog, Chocolate for Your Brain. E-mail her at email@example.com.
2. Kindness goes both ways
With Mother Teresa’s canonization, there’s been much talk about how to imitate her. One person who already does is her namesake.
Since the moment I met this Teresa five years ago, she has completely transformed my life.
Teresa was born with an intellectual developmental disability. She is a person some want to avoid, yet her joy and enthusiasm for life transforms her family and friends. She always has us laughing about something she has noticed. Like St. Teresa, she is completely focused on the human beings she encounters.
Over the past five years, Teresa has acquired the phone numbers of all of my friends and is constantly in touch via text. It’s not uncommon to sit down for a margarita with a friend and hear, “I was talking with Teresa today!”
Teresa texts to ask the mundane details of the day that interest her: What you had for breakfast, what you are doing now, how your day is going, and when she will see you again.
She once called me after a rough day at work and asked me what I had done that day. I was about to answer, “Nothing. I worked all day,” but I realized that would not be an acceptable answer for Teresa. So I had to think through my day and tell her some of the “exciting” details. That night I went to bed happy and thankful for the details of the day that Teresa had forced me to look for.
I’ve found that every time I’m having a rough moment I get a text from Teresa, reminding me that she is thinking about me.
Her greatest testimony is her spiritual life. It is something she does not talk much about, but it is not uncommon to get a text that reads, “I’ll pray Mary Powers.” Recently, she asked me to read her favorite part of the Psalms with her before she went to bed. It was Psalm 68. It starts out with God’s judgment, but the ending is her favorite part:
“You kingdoms of the earth, sing to God;/chant the praises of the Lord …
“Confess the power of God,/whose majesty protects Israel,/whose power is in the sky/
“Awesome is God in his holy place,/the God of Israel,/who gives power and strength to his people./Blessed be God!”
All I could think after I read it is, “Teresa has her priorities in line: Praise God every night before bed.”
Both St. Teresa and Teresa have that one thing that makes them beautiful: love. And they challenge us to become better people to share that love with those around us.
Challenge accepted Teresas!
Mary Powers is a pro-life conservative who lives and works in Washington DC. She has written for various publications on politics and the Catholic faith. You can follow her on Twitter at: mary_e_powers.
3. 30 seconds of humanity
It isn’t asking a lot to be a good person. It’s not that difficult to ask someone how they’re doing. It just takes 30 seconds to be a decent human being … and you never know how much those simple interactions can impact a person.
The other day I was at our small town post office — again. (For my business, I’m mailing things on average three times a week.) For months, I’d been seeing one middle-aged woman each time I brought my packages in, and we’d inevitably strike up a conversation.
I’d ask her about her day. She’d ask me about the kids. We’d talk about the weather. The quietness or busyness of the shop … Nothing invasive. Just polite. Friendly.
Now, a lot of times, a stop at the post office means a lot of waiting in line. Everyone seems to be grumpy or frustrated. So when it would come my turn, I’d make sure I was in a great mood — and anyway, I don’t mind waiting.
On this day, though, our usual conversation started off with her telling me she was sad.
“Oh no, what’s going on?” I asked.
She explained that she was being transferred to a different office.
“I just want you to know that I will miss seeing you,” she said. “I don’t want to cry, but you always made my day. You were always a bright spot.”
I was taken aback, but assured her that I’d also enjoyed our little conversations … and that I would miss her too.
I left thinking that, truly, you never know who you influence! If she wouldn’t have said good-bye, I would’ve never known how much she needed my smile and few seconds of chitchat.
After that day, I’ve never seen her again. She doesn’t realize that God used her to reinforce in me an important lesson. I guess 30 seconds of humanity not only spreads grace — it brings it back too.
Besides being a Mary Kay consultant, Joan Sisler is a wife and mom to four beautiful kids, ages 16 to 3. She tries to live by the Golden Rule, and to make sure that she’s always generous enough to smile.