“Remember there’s no such thing as a small act of kindness. Every act creates a ripple with no logical end.”
Scott Adams,Creator of the Dilbert comic strip
This past Saturday was National Random Acts of Kindness Day, celebrated on Feb. 17 every year in America since that day in 1982 when a woman in Sausalito, California, wrote on her placemat in a restaurant: “Practice random acts of kindness and senseless acts of beauty.”
I hope everyone was either the recipient or the purveyor of at least one random act of kindness on that day – or any day for that matter. I think we all know kindnesses big and small – shoveling snow off the sidewalk for a neighbor, a friend bringing over a cooked meal when you’re recuperating from an illness, taking neighbor kids to the park with your own so their mother can have a few hours of alone time.
Kindness is pretty easy and most of us are pretty good at it. But it’s the randomness of such acts, especially toward people we don’t know, that was celebrated on Saturday. These acts of kindness aren’t planned but are rather spontaneous – as small as letting someone in line ahead of you or carrying a grocery sack to the car for someone who has an armful. Or bigger, such as stopping on the side of the road to help pull a car out of a ditch or the spur-of-the-moment putting of $20 (or more) into a charity’s donation box.
I’ve been thinking more about such things and trying to be increasingly mindful of the transformative effect of these acts, how they make you feel when you are the beneficiary and how they make you inclined to reciprocate. I was the recipient not long ago, and I am surprised at how much the deed still warms me and how I now find myself doing the same, though not necessarily the same way.
I had gone to a late-afternoon movie with a friend, and we went out to dinner afterward. We were having an animated conversation about the film, politics, recent experiences and family stuff. I did notice there was an elderly gentleman having dinner by himself in the booth behind my friend, but I just glanced at him briefly and went back to my conversation. Awhile later I noticed him standing quietly by his booth leaning on his cane.
I looked a little more closely to be sure he wasn’t in distress, but I couldn’t discern anything amiss and again returned to lively conversation. I excused myself to go to the ladies room, and when I returned, the man was gone, but I was vaguely aware that he was at the back of the restaurant as he was preparing to leave. Again, back to the conversation.
After we finished the particular topic we had been exploring, my friend said the nicest thing had happened while I was away from the table. A man with a cane had come over to our table and politely asked if her dining companion happened to be a writer. She mentioned that I wrote for the newspaper, and he proceeded to say some kind words to her about some specific things I had written, and then he left.
That was so sweet of him, and I was very touched. After dinner – and I should say there had been beverages, an appetizer and entrées involved – the waiter told us that a man, who had already left the restaurant, had paid for our dinner. I was stunned.
I asked if they knew who he was and was informed that he’s a regular customer there. I wrote a thank-you note on a small notepad I carry in my purse and left it with the restaurant’s manager to give him next time he came in. So, George, if you’re reading this, I hope you got the note, and let me tell you again how your random and most generous act of kindness affected me. The thought and appreciation behind it were even more valuable to me than the tasty meal.
And ever since, I have been more motivated myself to quietly do things beyond what I might normally do. I think I’m at least a relatively kind person already, so it’s not like I’m going from Ebenezer Scrooge in his pre-visitation-by-the-ghosts days to the Ebenezer of Christmas morning. Also I’m not trying to earn points here.
It’s just that I have a new awareness for how an anonymous kindness from a stranger does indeed fill your heart and create “a ripple with no logical end.” I’m endeavoring to pay it forward.
And for that gift especially, kind George, I thank you very much.
Voices correspondent Stefanie Pettit can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.