It’s a snowy winter night. I’m waiting for my husband in our warm car parked outside the front of our house. Without noticing me, one of my neighbors passes by on the sidewalk, dragging a snow shovel behind her. Up the street, she stops at a large house. For several minutes, she silently shovels the neighbor’s sidewalk from their porch to the street and then the long sidewalk in front.
She never knocks on the door. I don’t think anyone, aside from me, even sees her. Then she crosses the street and heads back down the long block to her home. When my husband returns to the car, I’m wiping my tears. I recount what I saw. He nods. He knows what I know; our neighbor, the "secret shoveler" is a cancer survivor and the family she just helped, recently lost a teenager to suicide.
Acts of kindness, no matter how small, are about paying attention, anticipating what someone else might need. My neighbor, the "secret shoveler" knew that she didn’t have to shovel the neighbor’s snow. She didn’t expect anything in return, yet her efforts help create a world we all want to inhabit. Perhaps part of the value of these acts of kindness is that they aren’t expected. We act out of a consciousness, love and compassion regardless of our particular circumstances. Our kind thoughts, words and deeds say "I see you, I care."
Acts of kindness can be at the core of the code we live by.
Observing our "secret shoveler" provided me with an anecdote if you will, to the vulgarity, violence, cruelty and indifference in the world. For me, acts of kindness remind me of our goodness as members of our human family. Acts of kindness I’ve received, have helped me with loss and loneliness at the holidays, head off suffering and maintain my love for life. Often, these kind acts have been delivered spontaneously, by random strangers.
Several times this year, in public places, young people have quickly dropped small handmade notes in my lap that read "You’re pretty," "You matter" and "Don’t give up." Daily, I assess who in my life might need a quick email, text or card letting them know they’re cared about. Often, what I long for, is my guide for what I need to do for others. Some days an act of kindness can simply be saying "hello," shaking someone’s hand, holding open a door or paying forward a kindness through the treat of coffee or parking meter fees.
Additionally, our companion animals are great at showing us how to deliver kindness. Years ago, I witnessed my own guide dog, Mel, snuggle a severely depressed stranger on a ferry. The man’s wife was incredulous that our dog knew what her husband needed. The website Lovewhatmatters.com is filled with examples of acts of kindness.
Practicing acts of kindness can be challenging, when we’re spent, down. Or when those we disagree with need our kindness. On the outside, we have no idea what people are dealing with internally. As we teach the children in our lives to be kind, we also need to remember to be kind to ourselves! .
During this holiday season, I’d love to hear your thoughts and stories of kindness.
Susan Odgers is a 30-year resident of Traverse City and has been using a wheelchair for 41 years. She is a faculty member of Northwestern Michigan College and Grand Valley State University. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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