Sometimes small gifts of love and kindness show up in life. They give me hope, especially during these days when the world seems shrouded in so much darkness. Here are two stories.
My birthday promised severe thunderstorms. Windswept rain, lightning and hail. My celebratory dinner at 5 p.m. would now become a late European-style meal at 8 p.m. My friend and I could do nothing but wait out the weather until the roads were safe.
The rumbles of thunder grew distant and with skies clearing, we left for the restaurant. On the way, a rainbow splashed itself across the half-darkened sky, an artist’s palette of vivid and rich indigo, violet, red, orange, yellow, green and blue colors.
The child in me smiled. A gift from the heavens. For me. Today.
At the restaurant the waitress seated us near a table filled with 10 people. They were an African-American family including children, adults and grandparents and their joy was contagious, as they laughed, talked, drank and ate.
I overheard someone say “birthday” and then the waitress brought out a huge slice of cake with a candle to one of the men at the table.
“It’s his birthday, too,” I whispered to my friend. “What are the odds I’d find someone here, born on the same day?”
When we finished eating, I told my friend I was probably going to embarrass him, but I was going to wish that man a happy birthday. It was a risk. A small one. I walked over to him and the family turned from their food and looked up at me — all ten of them — with curious but welcoming expressions.
“Is today your birthday?” I asked the man.
He smiled and nodded.
My friend stood aside, smiling and laughing, and the entire restaurant stilled to listen, reveling in our common joy.
I was in tears at this family’s goodness and generosity, but even more so when the man stood up, hugged me and said repeatedly, “Have a blessed year. Have a blessed year.”
This afternoon I stopped by the Dollar General for a few items. I stood there, watching as the man ahead of me, perhaps my age, was having trouble paying with his credit card. The machine kept telling him it had expired even though the card itself had a valid date.
The cashier struggled, trying everything to make the card work. The line grew behind me as we stood and waited. The man pulled out some bills from his wallet, but he didn’t have enough cash for the goods in his bag.
He decided to return some of the items, placing them on the counter, asking the cashier to deduct them from the total cost. I was about to offer to pay the difference when a woman behind me, with two small children, spoke up.
“How much do you need? Here.”
She reached into her wallet and pulled out a $20 bill, waving it across me and at him. The man protested. Adamantly.
“I can’t accept that. I can’t.”
“Yes, you can,” she countered. “Here. I do this all the time. It’s my good deed for the day.”
The man would not take the money as I stood there, in the middle, watching in wonder at this exchange of goodness, of giving freely. The woman, still smiling, dug into her purse and pulled out a $5 bill.
“Well, you can least take this.”
The man bucked at her offer and finally reached out to accept it.
“Thanks. Listen, I work at a local supermarket. Meat department. Steaks. Come by and you get one free.”
We hear much today about hatred. Divisiveness. Racial tensions. The darkness of our times.
But I’ve seen goodness, kindness and love twice these last few days shining in the small, daily moments of life.
The African-American family and the gift they gave me has lingered in my heart. There was no color at the table when they welcomed me, no animosity, no judgment, no hatred. Only love.
This, I tell myself, is who we truly are, in our hearts and souls, people who yearn to share and give love — as well as receive it. No matter who we are. No matter our skin color, gender, religion, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation or religion.
Right now the storms may seem fierce in our world, the darkness overwhelming and sometimes, we may want to give up and drown in it. But don’t.
We are so much more than that. At our core, we are good.
We are that rainbow painted across the world’s dark skies — filled with the rich colors of love and beauty.
We can take any moment and spread goodness in the blackness of this world. We can. We can.