That’s Why We’re Here

“I’ve been helped by acts of kindness from strangers. That’s why we’re here, after all, to help others.” — Carol Burnett 

Last week, I stood in line behind a young man purchasing books at the Kilbourn Library book sale. “Mrs. Laundrie!” he exclaimed.

I recognized him as a past student. “Yes, how are you?”

“I’m great. Do you remember the time I finished my project, and you gave me a gold wishing coin?”

I blinked at the enthusiastic outburst. Back when I taught fourth grade, I used fake gold coins to motivate students to improve their behavior or finish homework. If rewarded with one, they could ask me to grant them a wish. Students never asked for outlandish gifts, something that stills strikes me as surprising today, and I could usually grant their wishes.

“I asked for a swivel chair.”

My mind returned to years ago when a few of the fourth graders’ desks had chairs that spun halfway around. This young man’s desk must have been stationary.

“And you asked the janitor if he had any extras, and he brought me one.” He beamed like he was nine-years old again.

I bet this has happened to you, too. Years after making a small gesture, someone thanks you for it, and you realize the magnitude of a simple act.

Other examples come to mind. I attended the funeral of a woman I worked with at Lake Delton school and alongside the bulletin board of photos, I noticed my handwriting on a “You’re a winner” banner. It was just a half-sheet of paper. I used to copy these and give them to deserving students. This time I’d written a thank you note to a colleague. It was over ten years old and she had kept it among her treasures. Who would have guessed?

Similarly, when I attended my stepfather’s funeral, I choked up when I saw what Harold’s son had placed alongside the coffin. Harold had framed a Father’s Day column I’d written about him, describing what he meant to me. He’d placed a pink sticky note on the glass. It read, “This framed article is to be placed on my casket. It is the best gift I ever received.” The column was only 500 or so words, a simple piece of writing, or so I thought at the time.

I owe my success as a writer to a simple act of kindness. In the late 1980s, I attended a writers’ conference. I’d been writing for several years, sending manuscripts out, and not finding success. I asked a conference attendee about agents. The man kindly gave me a name. I contacted that agent who wasn’t interested but generously gave me Leslie Owen’s name. Goodman Associates represented me and sold my first book, Whinny of the Wild Horses, to Macmillan. If I hadn’t gotten that contact information, I might have given up. The act has a boomerang effect and, in turn, it thrills me when I can help fellow writers.

I know you’ve experienced that boomerang effect too. Someone holds the door for you. You smile, say thanks, and feel uplifted. You might see a mother with a baby in a sling and a fussy toddler leaving the grocery store. She’s struggling to carry an overflowing bag of groceries. You offer to take them to her car. She smiles gratefully and thanks you. Uplifted, she goes on her way. While driving, her good mood causes her to entertain her toddler with his favorite song. The toddler is no longer fussy. When the baby drops her rattle on the car seat, big brother reaches down, picks it up, and shakes it for her. The baby giggles, making all three of them happy. The cycle continues.

Whether it’s a wishing coin, a quick note, or a kind gesture, a small act can have an enormous impact. Kind acts—that’s why we’re here.

6 Replies to “That’s Why We’re Here”

I LOVE this column, Amy! It truly does encapsulate in just a few words and many vivid images the positive differences we can make in our own lives and in the lives of others with even the smallest gestures. Well done!

Thank you, Gayle. I appreciate your taking the time to reply.

Thanks for reminding me how simple acts of caring and kindness have profound impact.

Thanks for the comment, Sandy. I’m glad you appreciated the column and took the time to reply. All the best, Amy

Jane Govoni

Once again a great reminder that the little things are what make a difference. We get so many chances every day to be kind. Jim and I were talking this morning about this same subject. He has done and given me many loving signs of affection in the last 51 years, but the thing that will never be forgotten is a time I was so crabby at everyone, including myself. We had four small children, and I imagine a lack of sleep may have been at the core of my nasty disposition. I was doing dishes when he came up behind me with a flower from the yard and sang close to my ear the Billy Joel song, I love you just the way you are! Sometimes it is a swivel chair, a smile and sometimes it is a song.

Hi Jane,
You’re a beautiful storyteller and this one made me smile.Yes, it is the little gestures.

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