26 Random Acts Of Kindness

This is what I did today.

In case you can't read the tiny writing that I couldn't figure out how to enlarge, it's a letter written to a waitress at a local restaurant where I sometimes get takeout between patients. We are not friends; in fact, we barely know each other. That's the whole point. I've been inspired to start my own chain of 26 random acts of kindness, to commemorate the Newton victims. This first act was for Charlotte Bacon, 6 years old.

I picked this woman to start the chain for no other reason than she is sweet, and friendly, and does a fantastic job at the restaurant. I wrote this letter to let her know that, and I included a small gift certificate to a local coffee shop. The gift isn't the point. The point is just taking a moment to make someone else feel good. Hopefully she will pass on these good feelings, and the chain will continue. I think she will. She just seems like that kind of girl.

When I woke up this morning and decided to become a part of this chain of giving, I was excited; in fact, I couldn't wait to get started. At first, I planned on giving out gift certificates for acupuncture treatments, but then I started to wonder if it seemed too self-promoting. Obviously this was meant to be a no-strings-attached gift, but what if the recipients saw it differently? I was afraid that they might, and a few friends agreed. So, I settled on gift cards for small local businesses instead. While these gifts aren't worth as much monetarily, there is no way that they can be misconstrued as a way to attract clients, which is good.

With this decision settled, I now had to figure out how to actually give the gift. At first I was just going to go in and hand over an envelope, but that just felt...weird. Sad to say, if a stranger walked into my office and handed me an envelope, it would make me nervous. I would assume it was a subpoena, or perhaps anthrax. I then considered hiding it somewhere, but that seemed even more complicated. I would have gladly mailed it, but the point of this exercise it that the recipients are random, which means I don't know any information about her, including her last name.

In the end, I ordered a salad from the restaurant and hoped that someone else would be there to take the envelope. Alas, she was there to greet me with her usual smile. Dammit. I paid, signed my slip (sloooowly) and saw my chance when she walked away to greet a customer. Sweating, I threw the envelope on the bar and practically ran out. As I got into my car, I felt like I was running from a crime scene. My heart was pounding, but not with the giddy rush of a good deed; I was actually nervous.

As I drove, I started to ask myself where these feelings were coming from. I had just done something that should have made me feel all warm and tingly inside. Instead, my body was reacting as if I was escaping from getting caught for something. On the inside, I felt really good; I knew that the letter would probably make her whole day. Why, then, was my nervous system on overdrive?

I've written a lot in this blog about the fear reaction, and how it was instilled within us to keep us from harm. And as I pulled into the parking lot of my office, it suddenly occurred to me, why I was feeling the way I was: we are so used to residing within our tight little boundary bubbles that any deviation leads to discomfort...even if it is a good deviation. I know this woman on a "hi and bye" basis, that's all. I would never think of asking personal questions about her life, because that goes beyond the defined boundaries of our relationship. Leaving her that note, while well-meaning, pushed at those boundaries just a tiny bit. Not in a bad way, of course. But just enough to make me realize that this is something I need to work on.

I can't remember the last time I spoke to anyone in a store aside from a sales associate. I go in and out, encased in my tight little bubble of privacy. As I was shopping today, a woman started a random conversation in line with me, and I felt myself wondering, "Why is she talking to me? This is weird." But it wasn't weird; it was just me. I'm used to running in and out of stores on autopilot; of killing time in lines by emailing clients on my phone; of standing a proper distance away from the person in front of me and making mental lists of what I need to do for the rest of the day. I'm not used to actual (gasp!) conversations with strangers!

In short, I'm on my way to becoming one of the self-absorbed jackasses who ignore waitstaff and can't hold a door for someone to save their life.

Okay, perhaps I'm being too hard on myself. Maybe I just spend too much time at the office.

Regardless, I am now more grateful than ever to participate in the 26 random acts of kindness chain. It's only day 1, and look how much I've already learned about myself! I need to get back into connecting with the universal human spirit, and I think this is a great way to make it happen. Anything that can brighten someone else's day while also serving to make me strive to be a better person? Win-win!