“Practice random acts of kindness and senseless acts of beauty,” has become a familiar statement over the past several decades. It was inscribed by Anne Herbert on a placemat in Sausalito, California in 1982 and evolved as a response to the phrase “random acts of violence and senseless acts of cruelty.”
Herbert’s book Random Kindness and Senseless Acts of Beauty was published in February 1993 and highlighted acts of kindness offered by “strangers” who became connected in an unbreakable chain of love.
I was raised to be kind. I was encouraged to speak with consideration of the feelings of the listener. My parents encouraged looking after others as well as ourselves and modeled it as lifelong volunteers. They inspired me to give back any chance I could, for the blessings I received. It was a cultural and spiritual value. I have come to learn that kindness counts.
A few years ago, I had the opportunity to put my heart, feet and hands where my values were firmly planted. After three days of fun in the sun at the XPoNential Music Festival, hosted by a Philadelphia based radio station, WXPN, which has become the highlight of my summer, I felt full to overflowing, tired and wired.
I was limping back to the car with a whopping blister on my toe, wanting nothing more than to get home, take a shower to wash off the sweat and grit, tend to my toe and get some much-needed sleep. I was in the company of two of the most heart-centered people I know: my cousin Jody Weiner-Rosenblum, who is a social worker like me, and Paul Dengler, who in addition to working as an artist, writer and musician, is a Forrest Gump impersonator.
We share a common belief that if we can help, we should, that we are always at the right place at the right time, that love is the most powerful force on the planet and that miracles are always happening around us. We just need to be aware of them.
A few minutes after leaving the park, we noticed a man who was sitting on the grass and crying, He was missing a few teeth in front of his mouth and was surrounded by a few paltry possessions. He told us his name and that he had been living on the streets for a while. His wife had left him, he had no job, some of his belongings had been stolen and he exists hand to mouth. We gave him a small amount of money, the food we had remaining in our coolers, a t-shirt I had brought along; but perhaps, even more than that, a sense of hope for a better future.
As we were talking with him, a car pulled up and two young women came out and offered food and clothes as well. One confessed that if she didn’t have family support, she too might have been in the same position and was grateful that she had a roof over her head. She felt moved to give back/pay it forward.
He continued to cry as he hugged us all over and over, telling us “God is good,” and that he was sorry. He also shared that the day before, he had entertained thoughts of ending his life. Jody and I launched into therapist mode, asking about plan and intent. He assured us that he would not act on his suicidal ideation.
I pointed to the lighted sign on top of the local inner-city hospital and encouraged him to go to the ER if the thoughts came back. He agreed.
I sense that beyond the physical items we gave him, what was more important was that this man who may have felt invisible and invaluable, was seen and loved by a group of “star-crossed strangers” who showed up at the same time.
A few hours later, as I was standing in my shower, cleansing away the sweat and dirt and then putting ointment on my toe, I felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude. I have a home to which I could return and all the creature comforts that allowed me to sleep in safety and a life in which all my needs are met.
Are we our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers? I think so. We are invited to be of service to each other, knowing that we all matter and can make a difference. Kindness is contagious.
Yesterday on my way home from Virginia after facilitating two workshops that touch on relationship, communication and connection, I stopped to fill up my car’s tank. My love tank was already filled to overflowing with the experiences I had. I noticed a young man perched on the back of a pickup truck with an adorable little dog. He had a sign that said he was asking for donations for food. He looked thin and worn. After I purchased gas, I approached him and gave him some money. The puppy, a Weimaraner named Dakota wiggled on his shoulder, happy tail wagging wildly. She looked well cared for.
I asked this multiply tattooed sunburned guy how he came to be in this situation. He had come up from Florida to be with family, “but it didn’t work out.” Now he was homeless and jobless. He told me that the dog was flea-bitten and ill when he adopted her. (He told me, “I feed her before I feed myself.”)
I asked what he did professionally. He related that he was a carpenter and did all sorts of construction. I thought it was a marketable skill and that he would find something soon. The back of his truck had tools and a dog bed, the cab contained blankets and dog bowls. I wished them both well and went on my way, praying for his success and well-being and that our encounter creates a ripple effect.
I don’t share this story to self-aggrandize but to encourage folks to do what they can as they can from wherever they are. Small acts make a significant difference.
There is a website where you can learn more about ways to become a ‘RAK-tivist’ and engage in Random Acts of Kindness.
Perfectly timed, as I was writing this article, this song by Ringo Starr was playing on the radio, called Give More Love.