Random acts

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She wanted my attention. I could tell! Standing impatiently in a long bank queue, I didn’t want to encourage conversation. She was persistent, and tapped me on my shoulder. “I really like your jacket!” That’s all she wanted to say.

I will probably never see her again. Even if I did, I will probably not recognize her. Yet, this person has left me a message to remember, to interpret as I choose: a random act of kindness—something thoughtful, something ordinary that continues to have an extraordinary significance. Every now and again I think of that moment and wonder if I’ve ever had that affect on anyone.

According to definition, a random act of kindness is a selfless act performed by a person who wants to assist or cheer up someone else. Either spontaneous or planned in advance, the general reason is to bring a smile or happiness to others. Various communities encourage its support. The phrase “Practice random kindness and senseless acts of beauty” is said to have been coined by peace activist Anne Herbert who wrote it on a placemat at a Sausalito restaurant in 1982. There have been many books and movies produced on the subject as well as websites, including one called Random Acts of Kindness Foundation (see http://www.actsofkindness.org/).

A moment came for me one day while driving home on Highway 2. I noticed a car on the other side of the road, parked on the gravel beside an incline. And in that instant of glancing over, I saw a woman climbing up the slope to get to her car. She lost her footing—and disappeared down the hill. Here was my potential random act of kindness moment! What would I do? Keep driving and wonder forever about what had happened to her, or would I go back and see if I could help?

I chose the latter. As soon as I could, I found a point at which to turn around. From the distance, I could see that she must have regained her balance as she was now getting into her car. I pulled up ahead and got out. Instead of waiting, however, she started to drive off. Sigh! I walked back, sat in the car, turned on the engine and flashed my head lights at her. She stopped. I rolled down my window. “Are you alright?” She nodded and drove on. She obviously wasn’t badly hurt physically and just wanted to get on with her life. By my perseverance, I seemed to have further unsettled her already difficult day. I guess if I were alone on a fairly deserted road and someone was walking toward me, I would high-tail it out of there as well. It was not the smoothest Good Samaritan act ever performed—but one I will remember. I tried.

The traditional season for being thoughtful is upon us. Opportunities abound for us to show kindness to those whom we may never meet. What we choose to do with those moments is up to each of us.

Organizations: Kindness Foundation

Geographic location: Sausalito

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