“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.