Ever have one of those moments where someone from your past crosses your mind unbidden?
It happens to me a lot, and often, they’re people I would regard as passing acquaintances or casual friends. I suppose that means those to whom I’m closest are never far from my thoughts, but maybe it’s just a sign that my brain has some quirky wiring going on.
I was driving to work the other morning, and out of nowhere, Vera popped into my head.
Her name was Vera Dinkins, and before health problems sidelined her, she never failed to call up the members of her church on their birthdays to wish them well. It didn't matter if she hadn't seen them in years; she still called, going through the church directory seven days a week, 365 days a year. Although my faith has changed a great deal since I found recovery, I was still an enrolled member of that church, the one in which I grew up, for many years, and she would continue to call me on my birthday.
Two decades had passed since the last time I saw her and the final birthday greeting she called to give me, and no doubt if we had crossed paths in the grocery store, we wouldn’t have recognized each other. The last time she saw me was likely when I was a teenager and running through the church halls with my pals, getting into trouble.
Over the years, I never gave much thought to why she did that, and I never took time out to fully appreciate it. I'd answer the phone, if I wasn't too busy; most of the time, I'd let it go to voicemail, listen to it once and erase it without acknowledgement or gratitude. The other day, however, I found myself thinking about Ms. Dinkins and her birthday salutations. Maybe it's a sign I'm just more appreciative of such gestures as the world gets colder and meaner, but I find myself strangely touched by those phone calls I received over the years.
From everything I remember about her, Ms. Dinkins was no Pollyanna. She was just a kind lady, sort of quiet, who realized the value of a random act of kindness, to herself if not to those whom she called.
One of the things being in addiction recovery has taught me is that getting out of my head and doing something for somebody else is one of the most spiritually rewarding things I can do. Not to get all metaphysical here, but it does something to be able to perform an act of kindness or generosity for someone in need.
Maybe it's something as simple as holding the door open for someone coming into the convenience store as I'm walking out; maybe it's stopping to help a stranded motorist change a flat tire. Whatever it is, I notice that I walk away from such encounters feeling a little bit better about things — about life and other people and my place in the world.
The older I get, the more I take notice of that world, and especially of my own vulnerability and mortality. When you're young, it's so easy to ignore the subtle changes taking place in humanity as a whole because, you think you're 10 feet tall and bulletproof. Instead of a menacing place where fate often deals a merciless hand, young people see it as a world of limitless possibilities. Instead of a planet in decay, mired in pollution and war and excess and greed, young people see ways things can be improved and made better.
And that's not necessarily a bad thing. The world needs optimism, if nothing else to combat the cynicism and curmudgeonly tendencies of people who read the headlines and watch the news and grow a little more convinced each day that society as we know it is on an express elevator to oblivion.
As a father, I fear for the future of my children — not just the kind of people they’ll turn out to be, but the world in which they’ll have to live. With my overactive imagination, it's not hard to imagine some sort of post-apocalyptic dystopia that resembles something closer to the world of "The Road Warrior" that the future of light and peace and harmony in "Star Trek."
But then I get a phone call or an e-mail from someone like Ms. Dinkins. I'll do something for someone else and not claim credit, savoring the self-satisfaction that comes from being a decent person — not for glory or pats on the back, but because it's the way things are supposed to be.
In recovery, it’s called keeping what we have by giving it away. Probably most of us don’t do it often enough, and certainly the world could use a whole lot more random acts of kindness on a regular basis from people in the rooms and outside of them. They don't have to cure cancer or bring about world peace; they should just do a little something to make their little corners of the world a better place.
Ms. Dinkins knew that, I suspect. I do, too, and I’m grateful for opportunities today to practice them. I hope you find a few along the way today.
Much love, family. Here’s your Friday motivation.