Meadville Tribune

Opinion

August 15, 2011

Random acts of kindness

MEADVILLE — Random acts of kindness

By John Brown

Sorry I have no tales of sex, intrigue and violence for you. I offer, instead, personal vignettes of what, to me, were amazing acts of kindness.

My wife and I decided to celebrate one of our many anniversaries by treating ourselves to dinner at the Hibachi Steak house where tables accommodate eight people around a flat griddle, and Japanese chefs cook your order right before your eyes. We sat with a family of six genial people and they learned through the course of the meal what we were celebrating. They left before we did and when I went to pay the bill, I was told that our dinner companions had paid it for us. And no, the establishment didn’t know who the people were.

Another time we went with another couple to Niagara Falls on a winter weekend trip. Hotel rates are much reduced then and if you’ve never seen the frozen falls (it happens every so often) you’ve missed one of the most amazing spectacles on Earth. We were crossing Grand Island on the thruway when our car threw a timing chain (an internal one, for those who know how serious it was). There we were on a six-lane highway with no heat and little chance of help. I tried for a while to signal passing motorists by flying a white handkerchief out the window. After time passed, I, being the best walker at the time, decided to bundle up and walk to the next exit (about two miles away according to the signs). I’d gone perhaps a half mile when a car pulled up ahead of me and the driver opened the passenger door so that I could see inside. This was a moment of decision. The driver already had made up his mind. I only hesitated a few seconds, then made mine. All I know is his name was Ray and he was from Grand Island. He drove me to a gas station and waited for me to phone a tow truck.

Ray drove me back to the stranded car and waited for the tow truck, then drove on. He refused payment and had, in fact, invested perhaps two hours in this rescue operation. All I could offer was my thanks, and that’s all he got out of the ordeal. Or was it?

I maintain that most folks are happy to lend a hand and may even look for an opportunity to do good. It’s been said that if you want to befriend someone, ask them to do you a favor. Inherent in our nature is the sense of wanting to offer a kindness. It’s the other side of “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” It sometimes is difficult for us to receive, and we feel much better when we’re on the giving end. For the most part, we’re lousy receivers! Can you repay a kindness when you can’t find your benefactor? Absolutely! You simply respond in kind to someone else who can’t possible repay you.

Decades ago I used to do entertainments with my mother, she on piano and me on guitar and voice. She lived in a senior apartment building. My nephew’s kids were in grade school then and Mama would look after them until the parents came home from work. They walked to her building and she would be there, by the door, to let them in. One day, for whatever reason, she wasn’t there. The kids waited.

There lived in the same building a man named Albert. Albert was self-sufficient and could look after himself, but mentally disadvantaged. Albert chanced along and, knowing that Mama kept the kids after school, let them in and invited them into his apartment. He did what all parents dread. He sat them in front of the TV and they watched cartoons while Albert fed them junk food and soda pop. It doesn’t take rocket science to know what to do and exactly what kids like. That’s “Doin’ what comes naturally.”

One time Mama and I did an entertainment for the residents of the building. Then in her 80s, she used to say, “I love playing for the old folks.” Albert was there, enjoying every minute. As I was putting my guitar in the case afterward, Albert sauntered up to me and held out his hand. We never expected payment for our little “gigs,” but Albert saw it differently. I held out my hand and he dropped two quarters there. “That’s all I got for now. Thanks,” he said.

Decision time again. I wanted to say, “No thanks, Albert, you keep that for yourself.” What would you have done? I closed my hand and thanked him! It was his pleasure and mine too!

Brown, a Meadville resident, can be contacted at jebminker@gmail.com.

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