Swimming in Ripples of Kindness
My father had a favorite passage, still marked by yellowing paper in his tattered biblical copy, from The Epistle of Paul to the Hebrews: “Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares” (13:2). How much this sentiment meant to him has stayed with me over the years. The following story captures its essence. It was passed along to me Peter’s father, a man much-loved by my own. The setting is the waiting room of a hospital. A woman observes twenty-four-year-old Peter’s actions and later talks so much and so often about what she saw and heard that her husband suggests she thank him. Recalling his name and the company for which he works, she sends an email to the business office, and it makes its way to unsuspecting Peter. Her effort to contact him multiplies the kindness ripples, passing along her gratitude and moving the power of his simple, gentle deeds forward.
She witnessed two little big interactions. “I watched as he not only allowed an elderly Hispanic man to take his spot in line, but assisted with the translation and paperwork. After the gentleman had been tended to, Peter took a seat and began to read. Not a full minute had passed before he slowly lowered his book to take note of a distraught middle-aged woman in the corner. I must admit, I had noticed her quietly sobbing in the corner behind her sunglasses, but did not find it my place to address her. What would I even say? Peter casually strolled over to the woman’s vicinity and thumbed through various magazines in the adjacent rack. He began by pointing out a bird on a branch through the window beside the woman. I could not hear the dialogue, but before long, they were both looking out the window and he had her in stitches! She was called to the back a few minutes later, considerably more composed.”
That’s all. That’s everything. Are there any “strangers,” after all? I disagree with the closing thought supplied by our passionate storyteller of hospital waiting room relationships—her assessment that Peter is “the last of a dying breed.” I see kindness everywhere. Perhaps we need to believe more, to trust again and again, in its power and in our own power to dispense it. My mother’s fancy for heart-shaped rocks has family and friends finding them everywhere. You just have to look. Bend down and see. Put down your book and go over to the woman.
How important is this story? Pete Seeger is quoted in the March/April issue of Orion magazine: “The key to the future of the world is finding the optimistic stories and letting them be known.” Listen to his song ... We all have a hammer, we all have a bell.