Teary-eyed yet delighted with her discovery, the teacher exclaimed, “Oh my gosh. Look what someone put in my mailbox! My grandmother wrote me letters on floral stationary all the time. This brings back so many memories. I wonder who did this.”
Bringing forth my best Oscar-winning acting talent, I exuded as much a sense of surprise as the teacher. The vibrations of feel-good energy created from the smiles in my heart and on her lips kept my mood buoyant. I would not, ever, reveal myself as the anonymous giver.
I didn’t encounter much happiness at my clerical job with the public-school district. I was an outsider, still new to the area. It’s a familiar role for me. I lived in nine states and moved to a new address several times within each. Fitting-in to a new surrounding requires exhaustive strength, unrelenting courage, pleading patience, and all too often births a wounded heart. Most places, I was welcomed and celebrated with open arms. Generations of old family bonds from many cultures embraced me throughout my travels. Priceless gifts in this divisive world we now live in. This small town though, it was different. People remained tight in their circles of safety and familiarity. There wasn’t much room, or welcome for that matter, for me to share my experiences. Oh, I noticed the roll of the eyes, smirk of disbelief, or quickly made eye contact with an original clique member when I added some of my life stories to the conversation. They acted as if they didn’t want me to notice, but I knew deep down they did. They wanted to hurt. And they were successful. There certainly were people that showed kindness, and I remain good friends with a few of them still. However, there were those who just wouldn’t open to me.
It started to wear me down, so I tried to brighten my mood in different ways. I decorated the otherwise plain and drab cork bulletin board throughout the school year, decorated the office for the holidays and sometimes made home baked treats to share. Eventually I ran out of imaginative ways to open-up hearts. Desperately searching the internet for some Ouija board wisdom, one day I Googled “kindness.” I discovered there’s a lot more of it in our world, in our people, than what most believe. Along with several moving stories of people giving or receiving kindnesses, I found a way to be a giver of random, anonymous kindnesses myself.
Www.kindspring.org offers a template for business-like kindness cards. I print them at home on happy yellow card stock and carry them in my wallet. Large green letters say “smile” on the front with a small yellow smiley face in the corner. The back suggests the recipient pay-it-forward and keep the spirit of anonymous kindnesses in motion. I was thrilled with my discovery and decided if the people I worked with wouldn’t bring kindness to me, I would bring it to them.
My desk was situated adjacent to the mailroom. Wooden mail bins, approximately nine inches wide and three inches high, one for each employee or group of workers, covered the wall. Teachers, cafeteria staff, nurse, specialists, principals, administrators, custodians, everyone or every group who served some function at the school had a mail bin. This provided the perfect opportunity to whisk away my doldrums from disappointment and the feeling of deep isolation. After careful observation, I learned their routines. Some picked up their mail early in the morning before I arrived. Some gathered it after the lunch break, revealing their presence with the wafting aromas of cafeteria food that snuggled into their clothing. Others came by during a free period. While monitoring the flow of mail picker-upper traffic, I would discreetly slip into the mailroom and inconspicuously place my “kindness” in a mail bin of my choosing.
The “kindness” was always small – a mere gesture to offer hope, cheer, smiles and all good things to the recipient. Scented votive candles or soaps, tangy green tea mints shaped like tiny leaves, colorful scratch lottery tickets, gift certificates to local fast-food eateries, decorative post-it notes (complete with sport logos for the diehard football fans), beaded bracelets, small boxes of creamy gourmet dark chocolates, stationary, nail polish, – you get the idea. Simple gestures that whispered, “you weren’t expecting this, but someone is thinking of you.”
With acute peripheral vision, pretending to not notice, I witnessed the soft shoulder tap of kindness make its way through the hearts of the gift recipients. Some were silent as they walked away, reading the attached yellow smiley card and wondering who could have possibly done this for them. Many giggled and private-eyed their afternoon away in search of the mystery giver. I secretly reveled in the knowledge that they would never find out. Some were more vocal about their kindness gift, like the teacher’s jubilant cry of joy upon discovering her stationary. When witnessing joy you’ve created in someone else, it reflects back to you like an image in a freshly polished mirror, bringing you smack-dab into the center of the present moment and makes you want to spread that joy to the ends of the earth.
I shared several smiley cards while I worked at the public school. Watching the reactions of people lit up my heart, but so did the thought that they would have to think about passing the kindness on. That this consideration would be an inner contemplation about the value of small things in life, the good things, the good people, the beauty and healing available through random acts of kindness.
Outside of work, the random acts of kindness continue. One of my favorite ways to brighten a stranger’s day is at the drive through window of the donut and coffee shop. After paying for my own order I tell the cashier I want to pay for the order of the car behind me. I hand her a yellow smiley card and ask that she give it to the unsuspecting person. This always makes her smile so now the random kindness is reaching the cashier, too, as well as the unknown driver behind me. The coffee and donut days are a little tricky though. You never know if the person in the car behind you is purchasing a sole latte for themselves or two dozen donuts and a large box of coffee to bring in to the entire office. You have to be financially prepared for this one and able to maintain your sense of humor when the bill totals $18.76 instead of $3.49. I guess it’s safe to say that kindness is priceless.
More fun ensues. The escape! Once my money and yellow smiley card are relinquished, I leave the person in the car behind me to inhale the aroma of their freshly brewed coffee, smelling all the more delicious now that the sweetness of kindness was added, and drive off the lot as fast and safely as I can legally go without incurring a traffic fine. I am a mischievous child with a happy secret. I do my best to maneuver my escape – right on Long Alley, left on Fifth Street, right on Penn, cut through the fire department parking lot – occasionally checking the rearview mirror to see if I’m being followed, desperately not wanting to be discovered. Driving away with a huge grin on my face, a giggle in my belly, and adrenalin pumping through my veins, it feels good to know I somehow, with however small a gesture, made a difference for good in someone’s day.
I no longer work at the school, and it’s been five years that I continue to engage in the practice of random kindnesses. I remained anonymous up to now. Making a difference through random acts of kindness helps heal both giver and receiver. Personally, none of those yellow smiley cards ever made its way back to me. Not at the school or out in public. But you never know when one may come your way. My heart continues to open and my soul receives the joy of touching others with kindness. I know without doubt that it is truly in giving a kindness that we receive one as well. Either way, it’s a win-win situation.