You may remember that about a year ago – actually one year and one month ago today – I bought a fun little sports car (for you board members a reminder that it was pre-owned and I wrangled a great deal on it – one of the many skills you learn leading a non-profit!). Some people thought I was having a midlife crisis, which surprised me a little because anyone who knows me very well knows that I would never put off having a crisis until midlife. I have always believed that if you see a crisis coming on just dive right in and head for the other side.
I think a truer assessment of my car purchase is that I have always been someone who adhered to the bit of wisdom that teaches us that the journey is more important than the destination. So I just thought if that’s the case, I should make all my journeys as much fun as possible – whether it’s heading across country or to the HEB for dog food…and so far it’s a plan that is working very well! I have put over 22,000 miles on that car in the past 13 months – I do a lot of journeying! – and I have to say just about every mile has been fun.
One of the things I wasn’t quite ready for when I started driving the car is the fact that people talk to me when I’m at a traffic signal, or a stop sign, or pulling into a parking space – especially if the top is down. I guess it makes me seem more accessible. And that has changed me in an unexpected way.
All of sudden the lives of the people on the street corners holding up signs have become more real for me. Some have taken those few moments waiting for the light to change as an opportunity to joke around with me – one man often advises me to be careful and “not let the old lady get hold of the car” (does he mean my mother?). Another man always laughs and tries to strike a bargain with me in which I hold his sign for a while so he can drive through his old neighborhood and let all his people see him. Intertwined with all that joking, I also have learned more of how his life became unraveled. I know that he is recently divorced, that he has a couple of kids, that he would love to play some golf. I know that the lady who stands with crutches holding the sign “on my last leg” (she’s an amputee) recently filled out her application for utilities and is trying to get into ACC. I am always struck by how much those short traffic signal conversations seem to mean.
I recently came across a statement from Mother Teresa that says “the poverty of being unloved, unwanted and uncared for is the greatest poverty.” I believe that’s true. I believe it’s also true that just a few words of kindness can put that poverty at bay for at least a few precious moments.
Every day I see the impact of simple acts of kindness. When a family comes over to the Ronald McDonald House after a rough day at the hospital, the smallest kind gesture or genuine word of care and concern can make all the difference in the world. Nothing really changes except that in the midst of some defacing, demoralizing and at times dehumanizing struggle someone acknowledged them. Each of us has within our grasp the power to make that difference in someone’s life. I said it yesterday, and I’ll say it again today – be extra kind to someone today…be extra kind to a lot of people today.