Recently an article appeared in my local newspaper that caught my attention.  A woman wrote to the newspaper to apologize and thank a man she had encountered at the post office.  Seems the man held the door open for her as she entered the building but lost in her own thoughts, she failed to notice or thank the man for his kindness. 

With no word or acknowledgement from her, his loud booming  “you’re welcome!” snapped her out of her own thoughts and back to the present moment.

She continues writing to say how sorry she was for not acknowledging the kindness (as she usually does) but was distracted that day.  A close friend called to tell the woman that her father just died suddenly of a massive heart attack.  This woman had been a support to the writer whose own father was gravely ill in a nursing home the past few weeks.  As she entered the post office, she was thinking about the irony and sadness of it all and how she could help her friend when the man mentioned above delivered his “you’re welcome”.

How often do you play that role?

The story reminded me of just how often I play one of those roles in my own day-to-day life.  Since I work with those in grief or very difficult life transitions, job loss, death, or divorce, I am often lost in thoughts of how they are feeling or how I can help them, or even my own personal issues at the moment. 

How many times have I not acknowledged a kind gesture another person extended to me?  How often do I just not see it as I drift in a sea of my own thoughts?  Other times, I extend a kindness to someone and they ignore the gesture or don’t seem to notice or care.  Do they just not care?  Are they lost in thoughts and difficulties I can’t see or imagine?  Fact is, I just don’t know.

When I encounter a stranger….

The newspaper article gave me an insight; a reason to pause and reflect on the burdens each of us carries at various times in our lives.   When I encounter a stranger I don’t really know what is going on with them at that moment.  I don’t know if they are experiencing a difficult time in their life or if they are just the ungrateful type who would never acknowledge a kindness extended to them.  I do know that I have a choice.  I can extend the kindness.  How the person on the receiving end takes it is really up to them.  I have no part in that. 

Extending the kindness enriches my life.  That in itself is a wonderful gift to me.  If the receiver takes it and acknowledges it, I’m doubly blessed.

The flip side of this however is that these are difficult times for many of us.  The newspaper article reminded me to allow room for others to grieve, to work through their difficulties in ways that work for them.  The path of grief is often jagged and sometimes causes the behaviors that we see and experience to seem a little harsher than normal.

My insight? 

I’m best served by choosing to extend love and kindness to others I encounter throughout my day.  I just never know what they are going through.  Easy to say, tough to do?  Yes but the woman in the post office served as a reminder to try and walk in love and kindness each day.