Friday, March 13, 2009

An Act of Random Kindness

"You and I can never do a kindness too soon, for we never know how soon it will be too late." ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

It’s amazing how much one can observe and learn even from a run at the grocery store. As I waited to pay for my purchases, yesterday, I noticed that the first person in line was rummaging furiously through the contents in her purse. Stress was evident on her face, and I wondered if she had just realized she had forgotten her wallet.

She looked up at the cashier and seemed ready to cry. She turned toward the two plastic bags containing the few items she had picked up and began to take out some things, mentally adding up what she had to leave behind. When I saw what she had pulled out, my heart sank – a package of store brand ham, cereal, ground beef and a bottle of juice. She held on to two loaves of bread, milk and diapers. She hadn’t forgotten her wallet – she simply didn’t have enough money even for basic necessities and was looking for a miracle at the bottom of her purse.

I immediately dunk my hand into my own to grab my debit card, but the man in front of me beat me to it. He gave the cashier enough money for the entire bill and seemed almost embarrassed that his act of kindness had been a public one.

The woman was stunned at his generosity. She looked up at the man with tear-filled eyes and thanked him. What happened next, however, was the highlight of it all.

He nodded, and told the lady that his best friend had recently taken his own life because no one had realized in time he needed help. His eyes moistened and his voice broke for a moment as he told her to not lose faith because things will eventually turn around. She instinctually hugged him, and a single tear escaped her eyelids. After that, she left. He paid for his deli sandwich and soda, and exited the store quietly.

I watched them both go, and thought about how many times I have probably passed by someone who is silently suffering and didn’t know it. All the anonymous faces inside the store – each with a story of their own, and some bearing crosses.

I thought about the times I could have smiled at a stranger, or helped someone with a small act of kindness, rather than just cross paths with them and look ahead. Any of them could have been the man whose heart was broken, or the lady who didn’t have enough money to buy juice for her children; maybe, they could have been someone whose spouse had recently passed away, or even someone who had lost all hope of ever overcoming hardship.

Truth is, we don’t know the person behind the façade, and we don’t know of their situations and their struggles. Because of that, we should always strive toward being kind to one another. Maybe then, so many would not feel completely lost and alone.

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