Monday, May 25, 2009

Random Acts of Humanity...with a hint of Kindness

My daughter was released from school early last Friday to begin the long Memorial Day weekend. We decided to take a road-trip to the Amish community located north of Pardeeville. Because it was her first visit, I spoke of the people's dress and manner. I told her that she could expect to see buggies pulled by horses, and an overall simpler way of life.

When we left town, we passed a man on the highway who was holding a sign that said, "Will Work for Food." He was a young, African American man, who looked uncomfortable holding up the sign for all to see. He leaned against a highway speed limit sign, his backpack near him on the ground. My daughter, who hadn't noticed him, continued to chat happily about our upcoming adventure.

I drove for nearly one-half mile and then I did a spontaneous, quick u-turn into a McDonald's. "Why are we stopping here, Mommy?" I explained about the man who I had spotted on the road. I told my daughter that we were going to buy him some cheeseburgers.

While we waited in the drive-thru lane for our order, we talked about how truly blessed we are. We may need a new $10,000 roof on the house, but we are warm and dry. We may have more bills than money, but we are so fortunate. We are loved, we are healthy, and we have a little money to go on adventures like the one we were on that day.

With cheeseburgers in hand, we perpetrated yet another u-turn and returned to where the young traveler was standing with his cardboard sign. As we pulled up, I rolled down my daughter's backseat window. She smiled kindly at the man, as she handed over the food to him. The young, weary-looking traveler, looked from my daughter to me, and then back at my daughter. "Thank you very kindly," he said with a smile. Daughter and I replied, "You're welcome," in unison. As we started to drive away, he called out, "You have a great day."

You, too, young man. We hope YOU had a great day. We wish for your luck to change. We hope that the day comes soon that you have a warm bed to sleep in, a roof over your head, and food in your belly. We hope that someone picked you up and provided you with employment, lodging, and more food.

As we drove on to our destination, I looked in the rear-view mirror and saw my daughter smiling serenely and gazing out her window. I asked her what she was pondering, and she replied, "I was just thinking how nice that was, and how lucky we are."

I hope this lesson in random acts of kindness will stick with her beyond this day. I wish that one day far off in the future, she will relate this story to her children and grandkids. I pray that she will grow to be a kind steward to people and animals on this big ole spinning blue ball called Earth.

I find that when I'm in parental teaching mode with my child, I often times learn more than my daughter did from the experience. Here's what I learned.

First of all, after I made the decision in my head to do this deed, I immediately started second guessing the plan. Inside, I was scared, and I questioned, "WHAT am I DOING?!" I am ashamed to say that I locked the car doors. In full anxiety mode, I pictured him pulling out a weapon when the car window was rolled down. Cripes, who can blame me? The media deluges us daily with frightening stories of murder, mayhem and tragedies. Truly, it's amazing that we can even leave our homes each day for fear of falling victim to a violent crime. The first lesson I learned is that there are so MANY MORE good people in this world, than bad people who wish to do us harm.

Secondly, I learned that I do not have a big, lovely heart that embraces all people. I had to confront my stereotypes head on. I immediately assumed the worst about this young man on the highway. What was his racket? Why doesn't he have a job? I squashed down those nagging thoughts, and reminded myself that being homeless and poor is not a crime. Sometimes bad things happen to good people. People lose their jobs and can end up homeless. We are here to love one another, not to judge.

Most importantly, I learned that to be a good parent, I cannot just tell my daughter to be nice to others. I must model kindness and generosity through my own behavior and my actions. The best part of this teaching moment, for both of us, is that it wasn't planned. It wasn't a premeditated, contrived experience that I'd set up in advance. It was right then and there - spontaneous and unanalyzed.

And, knowing my daughter, and her incredible memory, she will comment on this act of kindness in the future when we drive past that spot on the highway. I can picture it now, "Hey Mommy, remember when we gave some cheeseburgers to that man?" As her Mom, it is up to me to make this story the rule, and not the exception.

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