by Father Mark Goldasich
I can only imagine the look of shock on my face.
I was in St. Joseph, Missouri, for some R&R on a rare weekend off at the parish, due to the annual summer mission appeal. (Thank you, Father Arul Carasala, for the break!)
Why St. Joe? Well, it was close and I wanted to see a couple of things there, like the National Pony Express Museum and the Jesse James house.
In addition to those stops, an added gem was the Patee House Museum, which one visitor described as “like a Smithsonian American History Museum.”
Although all of those sites were well worth the trip, none was responsible for the shock I received on the Friday night after I arrived in town. Craving seafood, I popped into a Red Lobster. A reader like myself never dreads dining alone as I had a magazine and a newsletter for company.
Since it was beastly hot outside, I was dressed casually in shorts and a comfortable shirt.
After my food arrived, I tucked into it with gusto. As I was enjoying the last few morsels, the waitress came by the table. I was expecting her to ask the inevitable question — “Did you save any room for dessert?”
Instead, she smiled and said, “There’s no ticket for you.”
Seeing my puzzled look, she added, “The family that was sitting there paid for your meal. They told me to tell you, ‘Have a wonderful evening.’”
I was absolutely shocked . . . and grateful . . . and humbled. I’d not said a word to that family, which consisted of the parents and two boys, one of whom appeared to be confined to a wheelchair. We didn’t know one another. They ate and exited without fanfare. They obviously didn’t expect any recognition or thanks from me.
I sat there for quite a few minutes, marveling at that family’s kind action. I wondered what motivated them to do it. Did they think I was some lonely old guy who was forced to eat alone and needed assurance that someone cared?
Did they picture me as some down-on-my-luck dude (after all, my attire was clean, but not fashionable), splurging on a good meal for a change?
Ultimately, the simplest reason won out: The family just had a huge heart and wanted to brighten someone’s day with a “random act of kindness.”
It worked. The waitress and I chatted for a bit about how good and unselfish people can be. The family didn’t look rich materially, but they had hearts of pure gold. Their goodness was contagious.
Right away, I left a tip for my waitress, based on what I figured my bill would have been. And the rest of the time in St. Joseph was marked by my smiling more, looking for opportunities to compliment people, holding elevator and restaurant doors open for others, and generally focusing on the many things right with people and the world in general.
Don’t you think our world could use a life-giving infusion of kindness? Perhaps this is the one big sin of omission that we’re all guilty of: failing to leap on the many opportunities that come our way to make the lives of others, especially strangers, brighter and more joyful.
That kindness doesn’t need to be complicated. Patronizing a kid’s lemonade stand, giving a cold beverage to an outdoor worker, making exorbitant use of “please” and “thank you,” sharing a hot dog or hamburger with a neighbor while grilling out, or even sliding to the center of the pew at Mass (instead of camping out at the end and making others crawl over you) are all acts of simple kindness.
These actions help form our hearts into the Sacred Heart.
The late Father Ed Hays had a beautiful prayer that read in part: “Envelop me, [Divine Beloved], in your flaming Spirit, that my lukewarm prayers and acts may spring alive with the fire of faith. Make my heart, like the heart of Christ, burn with compassion for the outcast, with comfort for the lonely and all who are in need.”
Even if it’s just a guy dining alone at a Red Lobster.