Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Not-So-Random Acts of Kindness

"The best portion of a good man's life. His little, nameless, unremembered acts of kindness and love." William Wordsworth
My morning commute is quite pleasant compared to other areas of the world. I don't have to deal with jammed freeway traffic, crawling along as it takes an hour to travel what would normally be a 10 minute jaunt. I don't have to weave my way along side streets to avoid major areas of traffic concentration. Plus I don't have to watch out for a stream of pedestrians crossing the street in front of me... I just have a few more miles to cover while I keep a steady eye out for active wildlife. All in all, I don't have much to complain about.

I do frequently deal with what I've come to fondly refer to as the 'Senior Citizen Circus'... and since I live in a mostly-retirement community, the phrase has become a stress-diffuser when I enter the office in the morning. At times, driving slower than 45 mph on a two-lane highway with a 70 mph speed limit can become slightly frustrating. At other times, having vehicles pull out in front of you (ignoring their own stop sign) and forcing you to slam on your breaks isn't the most enjoyable experience, even at the points where the two-lanes expand into four. Add pouring rain or fresh snow and ice to the mix, then... well, it can sometimes be a crazy circus. Yet it makes me smile and a little envious, wishing that I didn't always feel like I'm rushing from Point 'A' to Point 'B' everyday.

Autumn Trees
Junction: US Highway 93 with Montana Highway 38 - Hamilton, Montana
My morning commute is quite pleasant in other respects as well. Each time I reach the point in my drive where I cross the river and enter the four-lane stretch, I see a number of daily pedestrians along a bike path that winds on the west side of the road. At the same time every day, these folks are out and about in the crisp morning air. There's an elderly gentleman always on the stretch closest to the river when I come through, and there's a middle-aged couple who walk hand in hand near where the speed limit changes when coming into town. I've become quite fond of seeing these individuals and their morning routine.

Yet that's not what made me mentally pause and ponder this morning.

One particular elderly woman has always caught my attention on the walking path. Every morning, I see her near the junction of Highway 93 and Highway 38. She's always bundled up for cold weather, and she always has a small, empty-looking plastic grocery bag around her wrist. Always. 

Why? I had thought she was carrying along a water bottle and a snack of some sort. I was wrong.

Without prompting, without any monetary compensation, without a large group of people to help her, without any visible incentive at all... this woman picks up trash all along the walking path. Every day. 

What impresses me the most is that this isn't just a random act of kindness. Don't get me wrong, random acts of kindness are wonderful things! Yet this is a consistent act of kindness, a daily act of service. What makes it so special is that it probably goes unnoticed. Maybe that's why she does it. And it will likely remain unnoticed until, someday (if and when she stops doing it), it's lack of presence will make it suddenly... noticeable.

Whatever her reasons, I admire her for it... and I am encouraged by it. Her example affirms for me the believe that any act of kindness and volunteerism, whether big or small, can make a positive impact.

For anyone who's ever had the desire to volunteer or serve in the community but didn't know where to start, this is as good a place as any. Find something you love to do, or rediscover something you already do on a regular basis. Take it, and look outside the box to find ways to make a difference in the wider community. Whether you're older or younger, a grandparent or a teenager still in high school (special shout-out to my fellow HOBY Alumni around the world), you can impact the world for the better... even through smaller steps. After all, who better to take those steps than you?

In the end, what matters isn't necessarily how much wide-spread attention a project gains or how many people notice it. What does matter is that you've taken the time to notice something that could be better, and you are making the effort to make a difference.

And for those small, daily acts of kindness, let me cheer you on and say, "Way to go!" 

As for me, well, my morning commute won't be the same. Even on the really bad mornings when the drive into town gets frustrating, I hope I'll later be just as inspired by this one woman's simple persistence to pick up trash as I am today.

"To be rich in admiration and free from envy, to rejoice greatly in the good of others, to love with such generosity of heart that your love is still a dear possession in absence or unkindness - these are the gifts which money cannot buy." —Robert Louis Stevenson