Sunday, June 27, 2004

Homework for a waitress. Still no free beer 

Random Act of Kindness #1

It was one of those perfect Colorado summer days. The sun was out, wisps of clouds scudded across the sky and a light breeze took off the slight edge brought on by the 90-degree heat. I was sitting in front of my house, reading a book and soaking up the sun. It was as relaxing as a day could get-all my errands were run, my homework for the upcoming week had been finished the night before, and I didn’t have to be at work for several hours. I laid my book down and was drifting off to sleep, when the kids across the street came shrieking out of their house, armed to the teeth with water balloons (ok, they only had one each). There were two girls and one boy (Tommy, the neighbor kid), and they all looked psyched up for their water war.

The water fight commenced with a water balloon standoff-the three of them formed a large triangle, a water balloon in each hand. Tommy counted down from three, yelled go, and they all stood there. Tommy made the first move. The girl he turned on spun around and ran squealing down the street, with Tommy in hot pursuit. After running 20 feet she stopped and called “time out”. Tommy pulled up, giggling maniacally, and proceeded to throw one of his balloons at her, only to miss by a good 10 feet. Sensing an imminent soaking, he turned tail and tore back down the street towards the other girl that was hiding behind a car. She popped up and lobbed one of her balloons at him and hit him. Only she didn’t hit him hard enough to break the balloon and it broke harmlessly on the street. What followed for the next ten minutes was a multitude of shrieks, squeals, “time outs”, and wasted balloons. In an extremely anticlimactic move, Tommy dropped the last balloon on the street as he chased after the girls. I laughed at their weak attempt at a water balloon fight and made to go back to sleep. But that wasn’t to be. The three of them came back out with super soakers and a bucket of water. I perked up, as this looked to be more interesting, and “deadly”. I was in for more disappointment. For 20 minutes they made rules “you can’t hit me here, only here”, called “time out” as soon as a sopping was coming, and got wet only from running around in the sun working up a sweat. Eventually they sat down and took a break from their fight.

Now when I was a kid, water fights were only similar to the one I witnessed in that water was present. We never made rules, there were no time-outs, and people got hit when they weren’t expecting it-fights were premeditated and stealthy, not planned out with strict rules. It was with these childhood water wars in mind that I hooked my hose up to the spigot in front of the house. These kids were so engrossed in discussing the details of their next fight that they didn’t see me until I opened the hose on them, soaking them completely. My random act of kindness complete, I walked back to my chair and sat down, and was gratified to see them getting down to business and soaking each other further, as well as any unfortunates who walked by (oops).

Random Act of Kindness #2

Have you ever tried to push yourself up a big hill on a wheelchair? Me neither. But I did see an older man making a go at it one day in high school. On my way home from school, I had to go down a real steep hill. This particular day, I saw an older, heavier man struggling up the hill in a wheelchair. He was only about a quarter of the way up, so I pulled off at the bottom of the hill and went over to offer some assistance.

I walked up and said: “Hi, would you like some help?” Without turning around the man started swearing that he didn’t need any help, he could do it on his own, and that I should just go away and leave him alone. Then he turned around, looked me up and down, smiled, and said: “Actually, yes, I would love some help. Thank you!” I grimaced a little at his sudden change of mood, but grabbed the handles on the back of his chair and leaned in to start pushing. Well, he must have decided that I could do it on my own because he stopped working the wheels and instead sat back and rested his head against my chest! I wanted to help, but didn’t feel that I should be taken advantage of, so I stopped pushing, asked him to please not lean his head back so far, and maybe help me out. He grumbled something, but I did not have to deal with his head anymore.

We made it about ¾ of the way up the hill before I began to get tired. This man was not very light and I am pretty sure his efforts to help were staged. Needing a break, I asked the man if he could set the brake so I could rest for a minute. Again there was more mumbling, but he obliged. I took my weight off the wheelchair and stepped away, and almost immediately the chair started rolling backwards. I could do nothing more than stand by open-mouthed as the chair’s speed gathered. With a withering look, the vile old man threw on the brake (he staged it!), which stopped the chair but not him. The chair kept rotating even though the wheels had stopped and the man ended up getting tossed about 10 feet back down the hill. I was still standing there with my mouth agape, but he jumped into immediate action-he began swearing at me. I brought the chair down to him, got him back in, and ignored the burning in my arms and legs and got him to the top of the hill.

His thanks? A begrudging “thank you” while he stared at my chest.

Random Act of Kindness #3

I like to go for walks around my neighborhood. It clears my mind and relaxes me after school. One day I ended up at a park down the street from my house. I saw a little old man sitting on one of the park benches in the middle of the park. He was sitting very still; his hands planted on top of the cane in front of him; staring off across the park; a look of sadness across his face. I felt bad for him, sitting here all alone looking so sad on a beautiful day. I said hello as I was walking up to him. He looked up at me, gave me a small, sad smile, and said:”Hello”. I decided to sit down and talk with him and learn his story. At first it took some effort to get him to talk-I talked about the weather, asked if he lived nearby, and rambled on until he finally started talking. And once he got going-whoa. There was no slowing him down. He told me about his kids-a girl living in Seattle and a boy who had just moved to Buffalo. They didn’t come back to visit very often, and were usually too busy to talk for very long on the phone. His wife had died the past fall, which he was still broken hearted about, but at least his kids had come back for the funeral and brought their new babies with so he got to meet his grandchildren. He lived in the retirement community down the street and would come down to the park every chance he could, as it reminded him of his darling Claire. They used to take 2 laps around the park every night since they moved to the community. Now they rarely let him off the grounds, especially alone. They are worried for his safety. “Concerned for my safety? Blast them. I survived the Second Great War and still have the shrapnel in my back to prove it. My family survived the Great Depression, I worked my parents’ land and then my own land for nearly 60 years, getting crops to grow when they had no dadgum right to be growin’, rebuilding after tornados, floods, the only thing that never tried to get us down was the locusts! And now they are worried about me walking 2 blocks to this park on a warm sunny day! I may be sad, but I ain’t gonna kill myself. I promised Claire to take care of myself and I mean to honor that promise!”

He put out a tough act, despite his small frame and tortured look. Talking about “that damn old folks home” brought the fire back to his eyes and some color to his cheeks. Off that subject, however, he grew morose. As we continued to talk, I asked question after question about his wife. Again, at first he was hesitant to get into much detail, but eventually I broke him down. They had been high school sweethearts. They fought, but never went to bed mad. They shared a bed from their wedding night until the doctor’s in the hospital refused to let him lay down next to her for the months that she lay dying from cancer. They were best friends, had no secrets, left each other little love notes every morning before he headed out into the fields, and had at least one true date a week, be it dinner and a movie or a picnic in a park. They had spent no time apart throughout their entire marriage. And now, she is gone. And he is utterly alone. His best friend is gone. She was the angel that took care of them and acted as the glue to hold their family together. He was miserable. In his adult life before Claire died, he could count the number of times he had cried on one hand-when Old Yeller was killed (but I was a kid, just 18, so that doesn’t really count. A man who doesn’t cry at that is dead inside”), when his mom and dad died, and when his children were born. Now he cries almost every night.

I sat with him for a couple hours. When we noticed the sun going down we got up to leave. He smiled and thanked me for taking the time to talk with him. Now we meet every week. And he smiles more.

Random Act of Kindness #4

I work at a bar when I am not in school. And I speak from experience when I say that you meet the most interesting people at a local bar. Be they college kids just turned 21, the older crowd getting a beer after work, or guys with nothing better to do than stop in for a few pints. You meet nice and friendly people as well as the people mad at the world that vent their frustrations at you. Recently we’ve had a couple of new guys that have been coming in more or less regularly. Real nice, and never a problem to serve. They have caused me to partake in the most rewarding random act of kindness I’ve ever taken part in. Free beer. Their eyes begin to shine (happiness or alcohol caused, I am not sure) and they are eternally grateful. And it makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

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