An act of kindness from someone unexpected.
“The smallest act of kindness is worth more than the grandest intention.” -Oscar Wilde
“What’s the kindest thing someone did for you…who didn’t even know you?”
I was asked this unusual question during a recent interview. Although the interviewer likely thought I’d share some story from my time in the hospital, the answer that came to mind actually occurred a decade after the accident. The undeserved and overwhelming generosity that was offered to me though, is something we can all learn from today. Let me explain.
While many of my college friends were packing their swimsuits and coolers to party beachside for Spring Break freshmen year, I had saved my money to visit friends attending college in Boston.
It was a bit of an atypical break, but we had a blast. We toured the city, skied a couple days in Vermont, visited a friend in Providence, and generally acted like 19-year-old kids. After a few days of staying out too late, getting up too early and running a little too fast, I got sick.
Visiting the health clinic at my friend’s college, I was diagnosed with strep throat and a serious inner infection. While being sick is never fun, it’s far worse when you’re away from home and sleeping on your buddy’s cement dorm floor.
The day after my diagnosis, with anti-biotics not yet working, but a flight home to catch, I hugged my friends goodbye, grabbed my bag, boarded a train for the airport, took a seat and bowed my head in agony.
Soon after, a man sat next to me. He then put his arm around me.
I looked up at him startled; he stared back at me kindly.
He wore a raggedy baseball cap, shabby tee shirt and looked generally disheveled. He reached into his back pocket and pulled out a Velcro wallet. He opened it, grabbed everything that was in it, and handed it to me.
It was three crumbled up dollar bills.
Shocked, I told him I couldn’t take them and tried to hand the money back to him. He didn’t seem to speak English, so I gestured there was no way I could take this. He brushed my hands away and waved off my attempts. The man cupped his hands over mine, gently pushed it to my heart, and nodded his head.
He then stood up, nodded at me one more time, and got off at the next stop.
I sat there on the train, my body aching, throat throbbing, and ears pounding staring down at three crumbled up dollars.
Here was this man living in Boston, unable to speak the language, doing the best he could to get by. Yet seeing a young man bent over in pain, he walked over to me. He put his arm around me. And then he gave me all he had.
My friends, the train was packed with able-bodied people. The vast majority could have given 100 times the three dollars this man gave and they would have never missed it.
But as is so often the case in life, it is the weak who reveal real strength, the ordinary who model true greatness, and the poor who exude radical generosity.
Oscar Wilde reminds us that “The smallest act of kindness is worth more than the grandest intention.” On this day, don’t just be aware of needs around you, be bold enough to do something about them.
This is your day. Live Inspired.