McAbee: The quest for Christmastime kindness
I hung some fliers around the high school that read: “Wanted, Random Acts of Kindness.” I offered to add a silver coin to the tree in my office for every kind act reported to me. I also added a stipulation – you couldn’t report your own act; it had to be an act committed by someone else. Then, I sat back and waited for the reports to rush in.
“Lame,” someone said.
“Loser,” said another.
Not easily deterred, I actually wondered if I would have enough coins (24) to honor all of the charity that would be spread.
One kid told me of a young lady who stopped to help another student whose books had spilled out of his backpack and onto the floor. I asked around. It checked out. Finally, a report, albeit coerced. I offered this boy a reprieve from detention if he found an act of kindness in the halls of Summit High. I added a coin to the tree even though this information came from a highly motivated individual.
Then, a teacher reported two more and someone acted kindly to me. Encouraged, I declared. “A trickle will become a torrent!” And “A drizzle will become a deluge!”
“Mr. McAbee, what’s a deluge?”
“Look it up.”
However, by the weekend the flood of goodwill and cheer had not reached my office. I drove to my favorite ski shop in Breck to talk to some of my favorite guys about one of my favorite subjects. As I drove up the street, I quickly dove into a parking spot in front of a vehicle in the other lane. Short of taking candy from a child or shoving an elderly person, I had acted selfishly. And worse, I had done it instinctively. Not only that, I began to see that selfishness is a regular practice of mine. I don’t want it to be, true. I know that I am supposed to be kind and giving but often I just look out for old No. 1 here. I had to ask:
“How am I going to inspire random acts of kindness in others when I so easily ignore the needs of my neighbor?”
This epiphany got me going. I searched for “random acts of kindness” on the Internet. I opened a page that made 29 different suggestions for people looking to spread some cheer. Some of the suggested acts like “lead a horse to water” just weren’t applicable to me.
A friend of mine told me that he recently called one of those “1-800-how’s my driving?” numbers on the back of a big rig to report to that truck number 98761 was doing an impeccable job. The operator on the other end was speechless.
I heard of paying the toll for the person behind them in line but there aren’t any toll roads in Summit County, and if there were we would probably just have toll passes. I thought it would be a good act to put money in meters for people on the verge of running out of time. But on the day I set out to do this, I learned that parking meters in Breckenridge are scarce. It didn’t matter anyway because I left my change on the dresser at home.
Nonetheless, determined to intentionally do something nice for someone I didn’t know, I grabbed three “free sake” coupons I had from a local sushi restaurant. Since I haven’t acquired a taste for Japanese rice wine, this move wasn’t likely to make me eligible for sainthood. Nonetheless, I had a plan.
On a Saturday night, the restaurant would be busy. I knew I needed just the right scenario. As I drove to the restaurant, something wonderful started to occur. It was if I had joined a chorus and was singing in tune with the rest of the voices of this celestial choir. As it often does in shuffle mode, my iPod spoke to me. The song “Give” by Widespread Panic came on. Every traffic light was green. As I approached the restaurant, a parking space opened. I parked right up front. I got out of my car, walked toward the front door and three people I did not know had just sat down to dine. Three people. Three free sake cards – the symphony reached a crescendo.
I walked into the restaurant and made a beeline for their table.
“Hi,” I said.
“Hey,” they answered.
“Can I give you these?” I passed them the drink coupons like I was dealing cards.
“Sure. Thanks!” they replied.
I turned on my heel and dashed out the door before anything further could be exchanged.
Back at school, no one has reported any further random acts of kindness. When it comes to silver coins, my tree is the Tiny Tim of “can’t say Christmas” trees. In fairness, it’s finals week – not exactly an environment conducive to sharing. That’s not to say there hasn’t been any kindness going around. Indeed there has.
And I know it because of the unexpected lesson that my seemingly futile random act of kindness experiment has taught me. By looking for them, I began to notice all of the nice things that people do for me every day. And I became overwhelmed with gratitude for all the wonderful people in my life, like you. Thank you; your kindness is greatly appreciated. Can I hang a silver coin on the tree for you?
Jeff McAbee lives in Breckenridge.
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