When most believers thank a higher power for the people in their lives, a mental list begins to form. It can include children, a spouse, parents, and siblings. The list naturally lengthens to extended family and friends. Perhaps a co-worker has asked for prayers for a family hardship or someone is on the sick list at their house of worship.
This list feels familiar and comfortable. But it is missing a lot of people. And we don’t know their names.
Consider the number of times a complete stranger has positively affected our lives. Are we equally thankful for those actions, and those nameless new friends?
Have you ever unknowingly dropped a dollar bill, and someone picks it up and hands it back to you? Have you ever had your car slow to a crawl, and then shudder to a stop on a cold Christmas night, and when you called the police from a pay phone after walking many frigid steps to a rest stop, a trooper came and took you all the way home? Have you ever forgotten you placed an envelope on top of your car, drove off and sent it sailing through the air, and then had it returned to you by someone you never met?
I’ve had all of those things happen to me.
We’ve heard of “random acts of kindness.” But are they? Or are they the actions of thoughtful, sensitive people who are inspired by an unseen spirit.
Kind actions are not always grand gestures. I know a 90-year-old man who loves to play peek-a-boo with toddlers in restaurants. The giggles and smiles he earns for his efforts make him happy all day long.
It is not all about receiving the kindness of a stranger. It’s also a wonderful feeling to be kind.
Each time we get behind the wheel of our vehicle, we can be rushed, rude, and even dangerous. If we make a conscious effort to leave a bit earlier, it is not such a sacrifice to allow someone to go first at a 4-way stop, or to walk in front of our car in a busy parking lot.
Get ready for a warm feeling when you give a dad a compliment about how well his children are behaving in a restaurant. You’re guaranteed a smile when you thank a first responder for all he or she does. When you’re in a long line at the grocery store, and a cashier announces a new lane has opened, allow the folks in front of you to jump over there. After all, they’ve been there longer. They’ll be grateful, and often even amazed at your kindness.
During this holiday season, and beyond, let us recognize and give thanks for a kindness shown on our behalf. The circle of love continues when show kindness to strangers. It doesn’t cost a penny.
We’re quick to point out the rude people among us. I devoted an entire column to these “turkeys” a few years ago at Thanksgiving time. It was pointed out to me, quite correctly, that those who misbehave are far outnumbered by those who quietly hold doors open, give up their seat on a crowded bus, or offer to help wheelchair-bound shoppers get something off the top shelf.
We often hear the phrase, “lucky to be alive.” If you’re on the roads at all, you know that’s true. Sadly, we lose many lives each year due to humans who make mistakes and bad decisions. But if you’re reading this column, you’re able to do so because these “total strangers” didn’t follow too closely, didn’t run a traffic light, and kept their speed at a reasonable level.
In the aftermath of storms, nameless heroes clear debris, untangle power lines, and unselfishly provide food, clothing and shelter to those who lost everything.
Here’s the untold story: we live in a nation where the huge majority of people have been raised right. They say please and thank you. They watch out for their neighbors when the heat or cold becomes extreme. They put food and water out for the birds and other critters. When the Salvation Army bell ringer cheerily greets them, they drop a few coins or bills in the red kettle. When the ball field at the school needs mowing, and the team can’t afford a mower, a Dad always steps up to help. When their garden yields a strong harvest, or their chickens lay extra eggs, they find someone with whom to share.
Oh we have our problems, and they’re well documented by news people like me. As we usher in a new year, let us take a moment to appreciate those who enrich our lives, and put a smile on our face, whether we know them or not.
(David Carroll, a Chattanooga news anchor, is the author of “Volunteer Bama Dawg,” available on his website, ChattanoogaRadioTV.com. You may contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 900 Whitehall Road, Chattanooga, TN 37405)