Today I am grateful for small acts of kindness — those little things we experience or witness that seem insignificant but that pack a powerful punch. Yesterday’s post about my mother got me thinking about how often she encouraged us to be kind. And I thought of how often in a day I experience the kindness of other people. Little things, like when you are at the supermarket and you are late (like I am most of my life!), and you have just a couple of items and the line for the checkout is out the door. But then that person who is about to be checked out eyes you with your two things and says “Go ahead” and let’s you go in front of them. Seems like a small gesture, but those small gestures have made a huge difference in many a day of mine. It costs the person little or nothing to do that small gesture, but oh what a difference it made in the recipient’s day!
I was recently talking to friends who had traveled to South Africa and met Desmond Tutu, Archbishop Emeritus of Cape Town, South Africa and a world renowned peace activist. During their conversation, Bishop Tutu spoke about the moment that changed his life forever. He told the story of walking down the street with his mother and a tall white man wearing a black suit was walking toward them. In those days in South Africa, when a white person was walking toward a black person on the same path, the black person was supposed to step off the path into the gutter and nod their head to the white person as a gesture of respect. Tutu sees this white man approaching, but before he can step off the path into the gutter, the white man steps into the gutter and as Tutu and his mother pass, he tips his hat to them. Tutu’s mother told him the reason that man tipped his hat and stepped aside for them was because he was a priest and a man of God. Tutu never forgot that moment. And from that moment on, Tutu knew he wanted to be a priest.
The white man’s name was Trevor Huddleston. I would bet most if not all of us have never heard of Trevor Huddleston. But without Trevor Huddleston’s tip of the hat, the world may never have had Desmond Tutu. That tip of the hat cost Rev. Huddleston nothing. But it changed Tutu’s life and our world forever.
Sometimes we are given invitations to share small acts of kindness, but we don’t recognize them. I had that experience seven years ago. It was my first year at St Thomas Church. They had never been a full time church before I got there. When I arrived, there were 16 members of the church. Just 16. One day I was working in the parish house and the phone rang. It was right around Thanksgiving. A woman with a very small and sweet voice was on the other end of the phone. She asked “Are you giving out anything for Thanksgiving dinner?” And I said, “No, I’m sorry, we are not.” She thanked me and that was the end of the phone call. About ten minutes later, the phone rang again, and again the woman with the very small voice asked, “Are you giving out anything for Thanksgiving dinner?” and again I said, “No, I’m sorry, we are not.” Ten minutes later, the phone rang again, and again the sweet small voice asked if we were giving out Thanksgiving dinners and again I said no. This went on three or four more times over the course of the next hour, until finally I looked up to heaven and said to God, “OK. I got it.”. And when the phone rang the next time and the sweet small voice asked if we were giving out anything for Thanksgiving dinner, I replied, “Yes we are.”
That was seven Thanksgivings ago. And every year since then, St Thomas has made sure that this family has a meal for Thanksgiving and for Christmas. I almost missed the invitation to get to know that family and to see each year how happy they are to have something to celebrate the seasons. i almost didn’t tip my hat. But I am so glad I did.
So this day I am grateful for all those small acts of kindness that have saved many a day for me. And I’m grateful for all the invitations I am given each day to give small acts of kindness. Because I believe with all my heart that when you put all of those small acts of kindness together, they have the power to truly change the world.
So what small act of kindness did you receive today? And what small act did you give?