For a news junkie like me, the world looks downright hopeless lately. Unemployment is still north of about 9 percent. We are in chaos: embittered, frustrated and scared.
The news bombards us daily with stories of murder, environmental disasters, massive deficits and debt, never-ending bloody wars, and a Congress that makes the Middle East conflict look reasonable.
Ask any journalist, and he or she will tell you, “If it bleeds, it leads.”
But when I look beyond the fear-based headlines, I see quiet stars that glimmer in the darkness of these days. I see my neighbor across the street who voluntarily mows my next-door neighbor’s lawn because she lives alone.
When the gate was left open, and he spotted my little white dog trotting toward the highway last week, he coaxed her into following him back home. When I thanked him profusely for finding my baby, he simply said, “That’s what neighbors do.”
I think about the middle-aged dad in the red Camaro who drove up beside me two minutes after I blew out a tire on Interstate 35 last month. As I sat there deciding what to do, this total stranger in his perfectly pressed khaki pants crawled underneath my car in 100-plus degree heat to put on my spare, waved off my attempt to pay him and disappeared.
I am acutely aware of these gifts, these blessings that seem to appear around me without any effort on my part. So I started thinking about other angels who are roaming around town in street clothes.
Last year in Hickory Creek, a mom lost her husband unexpectedly, leaving her with no insurance and two young kids to support. Local moms Jenni Bresler and Robyn Hirneise gathered donations at a warehouse for a week, then held a garage sale, netting over $3,000 that they gave to the young widow. I remember pulling up with my SUV full of items to a line stretched around the block. It seemed everyone in the Lake Cities was there, waiting patiently to give.
From my friend Char’s cousin’s Facebook page: “Thank you to total stranger Kevin Fairfax. I ran out of gas (duh) at MLK and St. Clair. Kevin stopped to see if I needed help, then took me to his house, got a can of gas, and I was rescued. Thank you, kind stranger.”
From my 87-year-old friend, Ina: “I go to Baylor Dental for my teeth. The parking lot at the entrance charges $5 a day with no attendant. I only had a $20 bill, so I asked a young woman walking by if she had change. She said no, but she handed me a $5 bill. When I mailed her the money back, I included a note of thanks and told her that that it gave me hope to know that there are still kind people who trust each other. Her answer was, ‘It’s a sad day when we can’t help each other out in this world.’”
From my sister: “I was so distracted after my second child was born that I accidentally left my purse in the shopping cart at the grocery store. When I went back, someone had actually turned it in — along with the $400 in cash inside that was for the nanny. A couple of months later, I found a wallet on the street. My daughter and I tracked down the owner and returned it to her.”
The web of community is not found in the streets, buildings or city hall — it’s created when we give something back.
Few of us will perform great acts in our lives, but we can all perform many small acts of generosity. This feels suspiciously like grace to me, this ability to give a kindness as well as accept one. And I don’t believe it’s random. I think it’s a choice we can make every day.
Lindsey Townsend of Lake Dallas is co-authoring a book on Letting Go (@LettingGobook on Twitter) and former editor of Dallas Home Design and Dallas Woman. She is also a Community Voices volunteer columnist and blogs for the Dallas Morning News. Her website is www.lindseytownsend.com. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.