One day in seventh grade I had a flu and was home from school. Downstairs in the kitchen, I heard Mom and our neighbor Mrs. Cumbler discussing which of them would “deliver the meatloaf.” I immediately crept to the top of the stairs so I could hear more.
“Okay, you do this one and I’ll do the next,” Mrs. Cumbler said after they had chatted for a few minutes. “And remember to include the card from the Helping Hand.”
The Helping Who? What’s going on?
Turns out that my mom and her best friend next door were part of a neighborhood group of self-activated volunteers who provided “random acts of kindness” when they heard a family was in distress. Perhaps the husband had died, maybe a child was in the hospital, someone might be recovering from a hip replacement.
Back then, there was no email to spread the news, galvanize the ladies and organize deliveries. This was all done by word of mouth. (Fortunately, there were “party telephone lines” and that may have helped!)
I have no idea how many women living in that sleepy village in mid-New Jersey, nestled along the Delaware River, were members of the Helping Hand. I do remember seeing the signature card on my mom’s desk, ready to be placed atop another casserole.
Critics often postulate that our country has gone to hell. “Things aren’t what they used to be when I was growing up.” “Nobody cares anymore — they’re too busy playing games or whatever they do on their iPhones.” I beg to disagree.
Last March when I was flat on my aching back, just home from 10 days in a rehabilitation center recovering from an L4/5 fusion, my refrigerator and freezer were stuffed with soups and casseroles dropped off by dear pals. Not once over three weeks did Mr. Wonderful need to concoct a cheese omelet, his signature and only dish.
Friends phoned, “I’m at the grocery store, what do you need?” Others texted, “Can I take you out for a ride?” I was blissfully inundated with random acts of kindness.
A week ago daughter Alex was conferring with a workman in her newly-reconstructed-and-just-about-finished Portsmouth, New Hampshire home after the devastating fire a year ago. Something caught her eye outside: her raised garden beds in the back yard were blooming with pink flowers and lush leafy vegetables. The day before that garden had been inundated with tall ugly weeds.
Turns out her neighbor and friend Wendy had come with a trowel and a tray of plants. Wendy recognized that planting flowers and vegetables was way down on Alex’s lengthy to-do list — so she did the random act of kindness.
You’ve all done it — help a friend unpack boxes in her new kitchen, drop off a tupperware container filled with turkey soup, water the garden of a pal who’s out of town for a few days, and so much more.
“The best portion of a good man’s life is his little, nameless, unremembered acts of kindness and of love,” wrote poet William Wordsworth nearly 200 years ago in his “Tintern Abbey” poem.
I dissent once again. Those acts are not “unremembered.” They are etched in our hearts.