Deeds of Kindness in Oxford
Written January 2011 during a study abroad trip to England
Eyes covered in shades of black,
Tip tap, tippity tap,
Cane searches for crevice and crack.
Feet meet steps, swift and sure,
Now into the traffic, onto the road,
Feet falter and slow, unsure.
Cane searches for answer, direction,
Finds smooth pavement,
No cracks to guide through this intersection.
Steps slow to a stop,
Then a voice meets his ears,
Offering to help.
A guiding hand given,
They go on their way,
As I stand watching, conscience-stricken.
* * *
Small car stalled, stuck in neutral
In a busy intersection.
Efforts to move it seem futile.
Still, one hand on the wheel,
Driver’s door hanging open,
Old man struggles to push it uphill.
Nothing is working,
Red light soon will turn green
Drips on forehead show panic is lurking.
Bus driver’s running feet are heard,
One strong push from the car’s back,
Now it’s over the curb.
The helping hand given,
They both go on their way,
As I look on, conscience-stricken.
* * *
No great heroic deed,
Just simple human kindness,
Helping those blind and in need.
So why can’t I give,
And do as they did
Instead of clinging to a life half-lived?
It has been four years, but I still remember seeing those simple acts of kindness and kicking myself for not being the one to step out and help. They were, unfortunately, additions to a long list of times I had let fear keep me from kindness.
I remember a time in high school when I stepped into an empty locker room and thought I heard someone sniffling in the back. I froze, unsure what to do. If someone was there, what could I do? I was shy, not good with spoken words, uncomfortable with strong emotions. I backed quietly out of the room.
Even writing those words ten years later hurts as I wonder what opportunity I missed by walking away.
Last year, when I was living in inner-city Indianapolis, I remember leaving Walmart one Saturday afternoon and seeing a homeless man sitting on the median beside the turn lane out of the parking lot. I don’t remember what his cardboard sign said – probably a variation on Out of work. Anything helps. What I do remember is the discomfort of pulling to a stop just beyond him and waiting for my green arrow.
I had been told giving money to those sitting on street corners was generally a bad idea. But still, driving past him felt wrong. It didn’t feel like something Jesus would do.
Today, I finished reading the book Let’s All Be Brave by Annie F. Downs. (If you haven’t read it, do yourself a favor and go read it. It’s an engaging, encouraging, and very convicting read.) In it, Annie talks about doing the brave thing, even – and maybe especially – the little everyday brave things. Because the everyday brave things prepare us for the once-in-a-lifetime brave things.
“I believe in the me God made and in the me God can make,” she writes. “I believe he made me on purpose and didn’t make any mistakes when it came to my creation. I believe he is doing a good work in me, and in you. And that though I am flawed, God is loving me and refining me and reminding me that God in me is where I can place my trust. And that is the place where I find my courage…. You have to believe in the One who made you.”
Sometimes, seasons of my life seem to take on different themes. If I had to pick one lesson I think God is trying to teach me right now it would be bravery. Because those are the words I keep hearing over and over: “Don’t be afraid. Trust me. Don’t be afraid.”
This past week, I was leaving a store, heading for my car, when I heard a voice.
“Miss?” I turned to see a middle-aged woman walking toward me. “I am so lost. I’m trying to get to 27th Street, but I have no idea where I am.”
And I relaxed, feeling a little guilty for my first assumption that she might be asking for money. We shook hands and introduced ourselves. A native of a Nebraska town with a population of only a few hundred people, she was visiting a friend in Kansas City and was terrified of the traffic and criss-crossing highways. I met her dog, a little red-haired mop named Simon, tried (and failed miserably) to light her cigarette for her since her hands were shaking from too many energy drinks, plugged her destination into her iPad and phone, and gave her directions to the highway.
It wasn’t all that brave, since I didn’t have to go out of my way to offer help. But it felt good. It felt right. It felt like something I want to do a little more often.
I am not brave. But I want to be.