by Father Mark Goldasich
Every now and then, a story really strikes a chord in your heart. This is one of those for me: An elderly man made a daily trek to a nursing facility where his wife was a resident. She was housed in a special unit reserved for Alzheimer’s patients. The journey was difficult for the man, as he himself was frail and walked slowly with the aid of a cane. His failing eyesight meant that he could no longer drive, forcing him to ride the bus each day, in all kinds of weather, to get to the nursing center.
He was a well-known fixture to the staff at the facility and often stayed to patiently feed his wife a couple of times a day. He was unfailingly pleasant to the other residents and outwardly grateful to all those who cared for his wife.
One day, the old man was invited out to lunch by a neighbor. He declined, noting that he would be at the nursing center at that time. The neighbor scoffed and said, “Couldn’t you miss one day? Doesn’t your wife have Alzheimer’s? Why do you even go to visit? Does she even know who you are?”
“No, she probably doesn’t,” sighed the old man sadly, “but, you see, I still know who she is.”
What wisdom — and love — reside in that elderly man. As heartbreaking as I’m sure it was for this man to know that his wife no longer recognized him, it ultimately didn’t matter. Love does what is right, no matter what the conditions or the costs. And one never has to explain or be ashamed of any deeds done out of genuine kindness.
Perhaps this elderly man can serve as an inspiration for us as we get ready to celebrate a little-known, but much-needed, observance on Feb. 17: Random Acts of Kindness Day. According to “The Book of Days” by Guen Sublette, a “worldwide, loose network of modest do-gooders,” called the Kindness Movement, arose in the early 1980s. It was a response to the phrase — “practice random acts of kindness and acts of senseless beauty” — first penned by Anne Herbert, a Berkeley, Calif., writer. You’ve no doubt seen these words plastered on bumper stickers or posters over the years.
It seems to me that our world could use a good dose of kindness right about now. We appear to have mastered multiple ways to hurt or depress one another; we still have a long way to go in finding ways to consistently and creatively encourage, support, and love one another. Performing random acts of kindness is certainly a good start and can have a tremendous impact, over time, on our hearts and on our perception of things.
While there are no official rules governing what actions qualify as acts of kindness, they are “generally anonymous” and spontaneous. I’ve found they’re also fun to do and immensely satisfying. They lift the spirits of not only of the receiver, but of the doer.
Honestly, though, it’s not the delight or satisfaction that you feel when doing random acts of kindness that is most important. Like that elderly man in the story, we do them because we know this is what love does, this is what Jesus expects of us as his followers.
Random Acts of Kindness Day can serve as a dry run for the upcoming season of Lent, which begins on Feb. 25. That penitential time of year has as one of its goals the development of a more compassionate heart. And isn’t that what kindness does? Joseph Joubert, a 19th-century French Catholic philosopher, said it best when he wrote: “Kindness consists in loving people more than they deserve.”
Don’t let Feb. 17 be just another day. Get out there and unleash some kindness . . . and watch how quickly it spreads.