I’ve been thinking lately about kindness — not so much random acts of kindness, but rather small, intentional acts.
I was on the receiving end of much kindness recently, when a health challenge came my way. I learned that when we are least able to help ourselves, when we are at our weakest — well, that is when we most need to rely upon the kindness of others. A time of loss or pain or need is when our hearts are most open to kindness, and we come to truly know it. We can finally understand it is not some simple fluffy concept we read on refrigerator magnets, but instead it is essential. Perhaps even the most essential thing of all.
As the poet Naomi Shihab Nye writes in her poem “On Kindness,” “Before you know what kindness really is you must lose things…. then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore.”
I also learned that there is no such thing as a “small” act of kindness. Even the “smallest” acts of kindness would make the biggest difference for me. Every kindness — every card, every email, every phone call or text, every encouraging word or smile — reminded me there are people who care about me, and gave me the strength and courage I needed to heal.
Now gratefully on the other side of this illness, I’m reflecting on all that was given to me during that time, so many kindnesses shown. I’ve been surprised, though, to hear some people say that they thought what they did for me was trifling, such a very small thing. How did they not know how huge it really was?
Which led me to ponder how often we don’t reach out to someone, because we think what we have to offer is so trivial.
I’ve realized that too often I have hesitated before doing something for someone struggling through a challenge, and for all the wrong reasons. Perhaps I thought I didn’t really know the person well enough —she was having a tough time, and didn’t need to be bothered by contact from someone who wasn’t a close friend. I was afraid of being intrusive, so I did nothing.
Or perhaps I hesitated because I didn’t know exactly the best way to help — what did they most need? And in not knowing, I did nothing. Or I was worried about saying or writing something that was not the “right” thing to say. So I said nothing.
I’ve learned this past year that there is not really a “best” or “right” thing to say or do when reaching out to help someone, and there is nothing too “small” to give. The very act of letting me know I was being thought of was the most powerful of medicines.
The intention is what comes through.
When someone is going through a difficult time, whatever attention we send their way can make them a little bit stronger, just when they most need that strength. Don’t wait trying to figure out the best thing to do or say — just do something. Don’t doubt whether your seemingly small act will make a difference. Know that it will.
And here perhaps is what I really learned. We never know the difficulty our neighbor or a stranger may be facing. Plato said, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” We don’t need to reserve our kindnesses only for those we know are in need.
Because we all are.
Last week, I noticed a woman attending a conference had a beautiful and radiant smile, and I randomly told her so when we passed each other. I thought nothing of it, such a simple momentary thing on my part. But she found me at the end of the day and told me, with her eyes brimming, that I would never know how much my comment meant to her, and how much she needed to hear it at that moment.
We may never know the ripples our kind acts may create, how far they may travel.
I have never regretted a kindness I extended to another — but I have many regrets for failing to be kind when I so easily could have.
The Dalai Lama has said, “Be kind, whenever possible. It is always possible.” Even when we think we’re too tired, or what we do or say won’t make any difference.
As Aesop told us a very long time ago, no act of kindness, however small, is ever wasted.
Susan Timmins, local business owner, mother and Anna Maria Island resident, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.