Kindness

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Birmingham, Alabama... working my way back home from installing some equipment in Shreveport, La., I called an old friend in the throes of discovering Thomas Wolfe was right when he wrote You Can't Go Home Again. Newly single, kids off at college, it was Mothers' Day, so I invited her to brunch while passing through town thinking that catching up on old times might take her mind off of the challenges for a little while. As we chatted I noticed our waitress at the cash register with a gentleman who was smiling and nodding toward a group of little old ladies over in the corner giggling and yucking it up with an equal number of younger women, apparently daughters taking their mothers out on their special day. He appeared to slide some cash across the counter and bade her farewell. After a short time the waitress went over to the little old ladies and spoke to them. One of the younger women jumped up, took off out the door, and when she caught up with the gentleman who'd just left we could see him through the window grinning and shaking his head. She came back in, smiling as if someone had truly made her day... and he had. The gentleman was from out of town and had paid for their meals because they seemed to be having such great fun together.

A truck-stop restaurant off the interstate just down the road from BuFu, N.C... the guy at the counter next to my booth had one of those el spiffo, super cool Eagle, Globe, and Anchor tats so we struck up a conversation. In short order he'd moved over to the booth. We were drinking coffee and swapping sea stories when in walked a young couple who sat in the next booth. From their conversation, and his haircut, he was in the service and they were traveling between duty stations. Also obvious was they didn't have much money. Just about the time chow came my new acquaintance had to get back on the road. As he rose to leave he smiled, winked, and asked "Remember when we were young troopers?" As he was pulling out onto the road the waitress came over to take the couple's order. The young lady was still trying to decide what she wanted, and they could afford, at which point the waitress handed the young man an envelope and told her to order what ever she wanted. Dumbfounded, the young man asked what was going on. The waitress responded, grinning, "Someone asked that you enjoy your meal, fill up your gas tank, and drive safely to your new duty station. Oh, and he said to tell you 'Semper Fi'."

Leaving on a service trip several years ago I passed two ladies talking in the breezeway of our apartment building. One was a new tenant telling the other she and her daughter had been working but had recently lost their jobs, so they moved in together to share expenses until they could find work again. Neither was willing to apply for public assistance so finances were tight and she wasn't sure what was in store for them with Thanksgiving quickly approaching. I later heard four or five humongous bags of grub appeared at the new lady's door late that night. Nobody ever admitted to doing the deed.

My favorite has always been the day I was leaving a sales meeting in Louisville, Ky. Being out of cigars, the guys at the factory told me about a nice little smoke shop headed out of town on the way home. Walking in from the parking lot I saw a guy come out of the florist shop next to where I was going, apparently headed toward his vehicle. He stopped a lady who looked like she'd just lost her most favoritest puppy dog and invited her back inside, so I decided to hold up the pillar in front while finishing my cigarette to see what happened next. They came back out directly, she with one of the biggest smiles I'd seen in a while and a flower arrangement in hand that would have made Senator Dianne Feinstein beam. As they parted company she asked his name, and he told her "Jerry, just Jerry."

As he passed by I commented that he'd done an awfully nice thing for a stranger just then and we struck up a conversation. He said he'd been a commission road salesman for about a year, the only work he could find after being laid off from his job as a draftsman, and hadn't been very successful even though he'd worked quite hard. He'd gone in to the office that morning with every intention of giving it up, quit, fini, hanging up his wingtips, and was trying to screw up his courage to go speak with the boss... when the phone rang... and one of his customers gave him the largest single order the company had ever received. He said he just couldn't pass that lady by without trying to brighten her day sharing some of his good fortune. 

Day after day, time after time, we see little acts of kindness toward others, don't we... an extra tip for a waitress with a sick baby at home, a side job for a guy who's unemployed and trying to make ends meet, a teddy bear for a four-year-old boy just diagnosed with leukemia, a set of sockets and combination wrenches for a girl with few means who's taken an interest in becoming a grease-monkey.

We live in the greatest nation to ever grace the face of Planet Terra. Americans, as a group, are the most giving people in history... giving, most often with no expectation of anything in return. Giving of themselves, their own time, their own resources... resources earned with hard work and personal sacrifice. 

Wouldn't it be terrific if our politicians, elected officials and their appointed functionaries, would use their personal resources when they take a notion to perform their own acts of kindness, instead of the public treasury? Or, at the very least, they treated our resources as the limited commodities they are? Wouldn't it be even more wonderful if, when they do use their own resources, they would do it privately, without a lot of hoopla, perhaps even anonymously, and neither just before nor during the campaign season?

Here we are in the Sunny South, the end of March, and it's snowing. At least I can blame the shaky voice on the cold and not falling off the wagon. I should never have bought that pint of ice cream for The Gang yesterday, then taste tested it to be sure it was suitable for them. These cravings and tremors are horrible. 

So much for global warming...

Royce Burrage, Jr.
Royce@Officially Chapped.org


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