In fact, the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation, the group that got the ball rolling around classroom and community kindness-based projects, is a misnomer. It should be called "Deliberate Acts of Kindness," acknowledging that reaching out to help another is a thoughtful, conscious and deliberate act, not mere happenstance that comes bouncing out of the universe on a good day.
Here are two examples, true stories:
Just before Christmas, a story appeared in our pages describing the plummet of a local woman from the life of a high-functioning professional, a librarian, to that of a poor, homeless person, sick and destitute, struggling to navigate the maze of social services theoretically available to someone neurologically disabled and alone.
Some Independent readers were angered by the story. Why didn't this woman buy disability insurance when she was able? Wasn't everything that happened her own fault? Why didn't she sue the landlord whose furnace belched carbon monoxide into the air of her side of the duplex ? Surely she could have functioned better on her own behalf.
Others didn't respond that way.
One reader called on the Tuesday following the beginning of the new year to make an appointment for early Thursday morning -- the only time he had a respite care nurse on duty to take care of his elderly wife with Alzheimer's. His voice was soft and strained. He would come in at 8 a.m.
On Thursday he arrived, small, aged and frail. His light-blue sweater matched the veins that bulged on the tops of his slightly shaky hands. He sat and talked quietly about his life as a retired scholar, now primary caregiver for his wife and his disabled middle-aged son.
"I want to help that woman," he said. "Having spent my professional life as a scholar, I have a soft spot for librarians."
From his back pocket, he pulled out a stack of ten, crisp 50-dollar bills, neatly paper-clipped together. "Give her this," he said. "It's five-hundred dollars. And tell her I want to give her $100 a month until she's on her feet."
He wished to remain anonymous, he said. He didn't have a lot of money, but had lived a modest life and had a steady retirement income that took care of himself and his family. In a month or so, he wouldn't miss $500, but he knew what it meant to someone surviving on less than $200 a month. And he knew the difficulty of dealing with the Social Security Administration and other service providers.
"I'm not a believer, not a religious man," he said. "But since my wife became ill, strangers have been so kind to me; they have literally saved my sanity. "
He said he had come to believe that helping other people was something he needed to do, that whatever good he put out there came back to him from others.
Later that day, the woman in the story came into the office to receive his gift. She was stunned, her eyes downcast, silent.
"Tell him," she said, "that I will accept this gift and that I thank him from the bottom of my heart. But I cannot possibly accept any further gift from him if he doesn't allow me to thank him in a letter."
He agreed. The newspaper would act as intermediary, mailing her thanks to him.
The next day, a woman called responding to another recent piece in the newspaper that described the friendship of two young people undergoing chemotherapy together, both diagnosed with cancer. A stunning photograph showed the young woman and her boyfriend, both hauntingly beautiful without the ornament of hair.
The woman said her 17-year-old daughter had recently cut her long, thick, lustrous hair and that they wanted to give it to the girl in the picture, to be made into a wig.
"She's so beautiful without hair," the woman said. "She may not want it. But if she does, we want her to have it."
Telephone numbers were exchanged. Connections may or may not have been made, but this profound gesture of kindness, and the other one, rocked the newsroom.
Stopping by Starbucks on the way to work in the morning, flipping change into the outstretched hand of a bundled-up homeless person, that's a random act of kindness. Stopping, thinking and acting upon what you think is right and good, that's a deliberate act of kindness. One is a flicker. The other is a beam of light so bright it opens the eyes of everyone around, blinding us momentarily with its beauty.