The US has an invisible army. It is not what you would expect. This is not the demographic that liberal media loves to bash — responsible gun owners or any number of X, Y, Z targets of conspiracy theorists. You glimpse us briefly and then we disappear. You never know our name but you will be impacted when we choose to move out from invisible ranks to interface briefly with your life. We are a force for good in the world and support one strong creed: random acts of kindness.
The US has a growing army. We are people who embrace a lifestyle, which includes blessing the stranger who crosses our path. We understand that the best help offered is that which moves from hand to hand. This help meets an immediate need or can be whimsical in nature but random acts of kindness are part of our lifestyle. We secretly hope that one day we will also be the recipient of such a deed. What goes around comes around. And, in the truest sense, those of us who practice random acts of kindness are optimists in the face of the worst possible scenarios. The glass is always half-full and never half-empty. There is always enough to go around and plenty to share.
Philanthropy begins in the home. It is the lessons from the hearth and not the lessons from corporate life that teach us how to be humane. My own parents were poor but they were tremendous philanthropists. We were taught that a blessing is not so much an economic number as it is an attitude, which invests in the well being of others. Tight-fisted behaviour always begins in the heart of a man but the same is true for the soul, which invests in liberality toward others.
The movement toward random acts of kindness has been sweeping the US for several years now. It is particularly strong in Texas. Perhaps it is because we have long seasons of sunshine with only a few really nasty, cold days. Maybe it is because we live on the plains. Regardless, random acts of kindness also find their roots within the pioneering spirit of ancestors who settled this land. Neighbour helping neighbour was the order of the day. And today, the tradition continues.
Essentially, a random act of kindness is based on a ‘rubber band effect’. You move outside your own thoughts and world to begin to notice those around you. Suddenly, you are confronted with an immediate need. That need is not spoken in words but every scene paints its own picture. As you note the need you also begin to feel that gentle tug to lend a hand but if you choose not to intervene the rubber band effect moves into play. You turn from the plight of the other. You walk away but you feel the effect on your thoughts. They are troubled. Should you help? There are two choices: you can return and offer a random act of kindness or you can turn aside and allow that little rubber band to snap.
Random acts of kindness are, for the most part, spontaneous acts of blessing. They do not drain the bank account, nor do they deprive your own family of having their needs met, but they may require personal deprivation.
One of my most memorable random acts of kindness occurred in a grocery queue. I noticed that the elderly woman behind me had snack cakes, potato chips and mostly junk food in her cart. I took in the scene and then I took action. A short and amicable conversation ensued and I had the information needed. She was raising four grandsons. The mother was in prison and the father had disappeared. Yes, she had a hard time making ends meet feeding four growing boys. Yes, every day presented distinct challenges. I placed her cart in front of my own and asked the cashier to ring her up and send her along. I absorbed the cost of her goods on my own receipt. Random act of kindness — easy to do.
Of course, what goes around comes around. One day I stood in line for coffee at an area grocery store. A man strode to the front of the line and handed his credit card to the cashier and then headed to buy his own groceries. He was built like a tank and carried himself like a professional athlete. When I arrived at the front of the queue the cashier said, “Order what you want. One of our customers is paying for everyone in the line. He does this every week.” Being an opportunist, I upgraded my coffee to a gourmet choice, the biggest cup available and pointed at the pastry selection to add a piece of cake.
One of the most fun trends in the Dallas Fort Worth area is to ‘pay it forward’. A person paying for a burger at a drive-through window will pick up the tab for the car behind them. These small random acts of kindness are happening across the metroplex from day to day and the radio stations attest to them. I practice random acts of kindness on a regular basis. Last week, I watched as a man with badly infected legs painfully switched from a wheelchair to a battery operated-scooter with a shopping basket at Wal-Mart. His sweater was frayed. Everything about him screamed the word ‘poverty’. Reaching into my purse, I handed him the few dollars of cash that I was carrying. “Sir, I see you are suffering. It is not much, but perhaps you can buy a meal.” In a broken voice he responded, “No ma’am! I will give this to my children.”
Walking slowly to my car, I felt my tears sprinkle across my heart. The gift was such a small blessing but it was a random act of kindness. Join the invisible army and commit to random acts of kindness. Blessed are the merciful, for they will obtain mercy.
The writer is a freelance journalist and author of the novel Arsenal. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org