When I was a little girl, I set up a lemonade stand at the end of the driveway of my childhood home.
I can’t remember exactly what my impetus was in doing so. I think it was simply a fun thing to do with my friend, and I liked the idea of talking with people passing by, offering them a refreshing drink on a hot day for only 25 cents, and, if I made some bank, that would be a bonus.
I lived on a relatively busy road. It wasn’t a major route in my small town, but it wasn’t an obscure side street either, so I was hoping for some decent traffic. Lots of people stopped, but I distinctly remember this one customer.
He pulls up on his bicycle, all geared up like he’s racing in the Tour de France; a serious cyclist, for sure. He stops at my stand and hands me a quarter. I begin to pour his cup of lemonade.
“Oh, no thank you. I don’t want anything to drink.”
“Oh, ok,” I said, as I reach to hand him back his quarter, puzzled by why he stopped then.
“You keep the quarter. I’m not thirsty. I just want to support you in your business. Good luck today!”
And off he rode.
Wait a minute. This man just gave me something for nothing? He stopped only to be supportive and kind to a stranger? Although it was a very brief encounter, this experience has stayed with me for 30 years. I’m sure he has no idea what a difference he made in my day and my life. I’m sure his generosity has inspired me more times over the years than I even realize.
During my life since then, I’ve made a conscious effort to perform these acts myself. By doing so, I now see that the cyclist didn’t give me something for nothing. Through his kindness, he, too, received a gift far more valuable than a quarter. Not only did he ride away feeling pretty darn good about himself, but he also stimulated the pleasure centers in the brain. Continuing acts of kindness literally rewires the brain for joy. I guess the Buddhists are on to something when they suggest giving whatever it is you need.
Recently, I was kayaking in my town, and while paddling, I came across a sunflower floating in the water; a pretty random thing to find. I picked it up and put it on my boat. I’m not sure why I felt compelled to take it, but I did. It seemed a shame to leave something so beautiful out there.
When I got back to my car and was putting the boat on the rack, I realized why I had found the flower. I noticed an elderly woman sitting on a bench with a younger woman. I made my way over to the bench, catching the younger woman’s eyes first and silently asking permission to approach. She smiled and nodded, mouthing the word “Mom” while pointing to her partner on the bench.
I walked toward her mother, extending my hand to offer her the sunflower. She looked up at me, tears forming in her bright blue eyes. “For me?” “Yes,” I replied. “I was just out on my boat and found it floating in the water, and I want to give it to you.” She turned to her daughter and smiled. Her daughter shrugged and said, “I guess it was meant for you, Mom.”
I saw a tear fall down Mom’s face as she looked back at me. “Oh, thank you, dear. It’s beautiful.”
“And so are you,” I responded, “so I guess it really is meant for you. Have a great night!”
I headed back to the car while fighting back tears. The feeling of giving that flower to her was better than any gift I’ve ever received. I thought about that cyclist at my lemonade stand and felt a kinship.
The gift in giving is so powerful that you can simply be a witness to it and reap the benefits. I recently saw a story on The Good News Network where a young man’s dying wish was for his family to go to a pizza joint and tip the server $500. Aaron passed away a few weeks after his 30th birthday, and his family got busy collecting donations from family and friends to fulfill his last wish. They have since completed their mission, and as the story spread, more and more donations have poured in, allowing them to leave six $500 tips so far with many more to go. You can follow their progress and watch videos of the gifting here.
Here’s an act of kindness I’m not directly involved in, but just by reading it and experiencing it through the family’s stories, I get to experience the joy and fullness they feel. The benefits of kindness spread far and wide – and quickly.
So, I offer you a challenge. Will you commit to performing random acts of kindness in your life; acts with no hidden agenda? To get things rolling for you, I’ve listed some suggestions below:
- Hold the door open for someone
- Buy a cup of coffee or tea for the next person in line at the café
- Leave sticky notes in books in stores and at the library that say “You matter” or “You are loved.”
- As you take your daily walk, bring a bag and pick up any trash along the way
- Snail mail someone in your life a card just to let them know you were thinking about them
- Put some coins in someone else’s meter
- Offer a bottle of water to your letter carrier or delivery person
- Smile at a stranger
We can never have enough kindness in this world, and I truly believe that lives around the globe can be changed by your one act. Like a pebble tossed in the ocean creates a ripple effect, so can your gift.
So, which one will you start with? Please jot a note in the comments below, including where in the world you’re from and let’s spread the joy!