Random acts of kindness are all the rage, and I have been enormously moved by stories of those whose lives have been touched by anonymous strangers. Jason Wright's Christmas Jars sparked a wonderful movement along this line, and Brad Formsma shared some heart-warming stories in his book, I Like Giving, which I recently reviewed in this blog. For the most part, these acts are intentional and planned.
But I just read a beautiful piece that reminded me how often the tiniest gestures—more often than not done spontaneously or without realizing how much they matter—can be the ones that will be remembered and cherished many years later. “Lights in My Darkness” was written by Esther Miller in her “Moments in Time” blog. I hope you'll read it all, but in it, she recalled a dark time 40 years in her past, right after her mother died, when she struggled quietly with depression and shared her feelings with almost no one. To this day, she remembers fondly some things her friends did that served as little lights in her darkness. Not beacons or spotlights, but just enough—enough to light her way to a better place.
It got me thinking about all the small gestures that have touched me when the other person couldn't have known how much I needed their offering at the time: a phone call, an invitation to have coffee, a note in the mail, a loaf of bread, a bulb out of their garden, an email of encouragement or praise, a tiny gift that meant far more than the monetary value, an unannounced visit “just to check on you.”
Remember the 1979 Bell System ads with the slogan “Reach out and touch someone”? It was wildly successful, because it tapped into the universal human need to be noticed, touched, and connected. Happily, there are many more ways to accomplish this than just with a phone. Let your instincts guide you, but when you feel a nudge to do something spontaneous or small for someone, act on it. It might be as simple as a hug, or as much as the offer to a caretaker to give them a break by sitting with their child or invalid. Perhaps it's a ten dollar bill tucked in a pocket or added to a tip. A beautiful cousin of mine gives scarves and jewelry she has made to brighten someone's day. In Esther's case, some friends pulled her out of her lonely shell by inviting her to have fun. Others helped by just hanging out and listening.
Here's something else that struck me from Esther's poignant article: just as the friends who helped her may never know it, we may never know many of the things we do that make a difference to those around us.
So the next time you're feeling down and wondering if you really matter in the world, remember Esther's friends. Then go get a copy of “It's a Wonderful Life,” pop some popcorn, and let George Bailey's story warm your heart and rekindle your own light.
What tiny acts of kindness have made a difference in your life?
You are not here to save the world but you are here to touch the hands that are within your reach. ~Kathleen Price
No one is useless in this world who lightens the burden of it to anyone else. ~ Charles Dickens