I just received a loving act of, not random, but thoughtful kindness. The effect on me was huge and what struck home was that though we all talk about random acts of kindness, there is something missing. Yes, they engender goodwill and a ripple effect which is certainly better than careless indifference, but the fact they are random and not specific does not raise the recipient's value and that is often what a bruised or lonely heart needs.
We need a different phrase, “random acts of the heart” to describe gestures small, perhaps only a few words but acts that make the recipient feel recognized and heard. Several times people have gone over the odds for me, not for anyone, but for me. Not only have I benefitted from the act but more important from the knowledge that I was seen and cared for as an individual.
I remember waiting in tears at Toronto airport, while my husband fetched our car. My father had just died and the kids were all overseas. I never felt more isolated from family or roots, although we had lived in Canada 20 years. When we got home, there was a letter from a Canadian friend, “We are your family now.” I have never forgotten and today 18 years later when she is widowed, 96 and losing her memory, I call her every night with gratitude in my heart.
When much younger and two months pregnant, I had a car crash in Malta. My husband was at sea and the medical officer sent me back to our apartment alone, with a careless, “Let me know if you miscarry.” I was following ship on a shoestring and when 6 weeks later, I turned up in Gibraltar, a senior officer's wife, outraged by the MO's treatment, took me into her apartment, treating me as a flat mate. We lived with her for a month and became lifelong friends until her death. She not only gave me shelter, but made me feel cared for and not an embarrassing onvenience.
Then there are the small gifts we can give. Once at the library, back in the days when books were checked out by a human, the librarian sat before me patiently stamping my books. She looked tired and plain with thick glasses and lank hair. I knew she lived alone. But…”You have such beautiful hands,” I said and she sat straighter, smiling, a woman with beautiful hands.
One Christmas, I was talking to a friend's 86 year-old widowed father. He was pretzeled with arthritis and telling me about his daily routine. It took him hours, alone in his apartment, just to dress and get breakfast. And for what? I couldn't help thinking. What could I say that would not be trite and empty?
“What an incredible example of courage you are giving your grandchildren,” I finally said. “What a legacy!” He straightened up, and I could see the shadow of the old soldier in his bearing. “Yes, we mustn't let down the children,” he said. And I felt humbled as the tears pricked my eyes.
That's what I felt a writer's role was – to take another's act or life, frame it and hand it back to them. Perhaps it will make them feel valued and their story heard, just as my friend's simple act of kindness in bringing Christmas to us, when my back hurts too much to do it myself, healed my feeling of separation from family.