It caught me absolutely by surprise.
A random act of kindness from someone I still don’t know and may never meet changed my entire outlook that day.
It happened on Tuesday, which for all intents and purposes had been simply a long, long extension of Monday. Those are generally my two busiest days of the week, with deadline stacked on top of deadline.
This week, we were short-handed on Monday, with two people out of the office, and I ended up doing considerably more story planning and editing than usual because the editor of one of our other papers was out those days, so that work fell to me as well.
In the midst of all of that I was dealing with a sudden car repair bill that was, quite frankly, prohibitively expensive to pursue, so to say I was having a couple of bad days — and not in the greatest of moods Tuesday evening — would be an understatement.
To top the day off, I was a bit blindsided by a local person who called me on Monday, and after our conversation, he posted on Facebook a total misrepresentation of our conversation, lying through his keyboard while telling everyone I have some sort of hatred for anyone who isn’t white.
(I suppose I should blame myself for being surprised because that’s just who this person is — a guy mostly known throwing petulant little fits when he’s not effusively praised for his supposed charity work, and holding long-term childish grudges. I should have known better than to speak with him and expect anything different.)
I was tired and hungry at the end of Tuesday, so I made a quick trip through the drive-through at a local fast food restaurant. I placed my order, drove around to the window, and when I attempted to pay, the clerk said: “The person here before you said to keep her change and apply it to the next person’s bill and to give the next person this,” and she handed me a napkin with this written on it:
“In honor of my son Robert who was taken too soon, please pay it forward and honor someone else. Thank you and God bless.”
There are few times in life when I’m truly, genuinely surprised. I usually see most things coming. But that caught me off-guard.
I know we’re not talking about an earth-shattering experience. It was $3.50 off of a fast food meal. But it was the gesture, and the person behind it, that really stands out to me. And it certainly put a different perspective on the day.
The person who had been online, posting falsehoods about me? He’s a gadfly who crawls out from underneath his rock whenever there’s a little controversy he can jump into, then he disappears again. There will always be people like him — just ignore them, life’s too short to pay any attention to them.
But this lady, this stranger, this mother still hurting over the loss of her son? Who turned that grief into a random little act of kindness in memory of her son, Robert?
Those are the people who make up the majority of this community and make it so great. Those are the people who should command our attention, who should be the folks we emulate.
To this lady, who I may never meet, I hope you’re reading this column today. I don’t know who your son was, nor the circumstances of his death, but I am sorry for your loss. And I promise you two things. First, I’m going to give $10 to the United Fund of Surry County, in Robert’s name. I don’t know of many ways to have a more widespread, positive effect for people who truly need help than through the local United Fund — if every working adult in Surry County gave $5 or $10 to the United Fund this week, that agency would go far above its goal for the year and would be able to help many, many folks in Surry County.
Second, I’m going to actively look for ways to offer simple acts of kindness to others, whether I know them or not.
I challenge everyone reading this column to do the same. Find some way to do an active, random act of kindness for others around you — strangers as well as folks you might now. Help a stranded motorist. Clean up the yard of an elderly person who can’t afford to have it done. Buy a week’s worth of groceries for someone you know is struggling. Step outside your office or place of business to help the person who’s dropped their bags or papers on the sidewalk. Buy a lunch for a stranger.
For those of you with more financial means, buy a set of tires for someone at work you know who’s struggling, driving around on bald tires because she has no money; pay for eyeglasses for the neighbor’s child who desperately needs them but the family can’t afford it … the list could go on and on.
The point is, there are an almost endless number of ways to truly help others, if we open our eyes and just look.
And when you do, if appropriate, tell the person you’re doing it for Robert. And his mom.
Then ask them to pass it on.
John Peters is editor of The Mount Airy News. He can be reached at 336-415-4701.