A friend of mine who lives in the Midwest called me yesterday. From the tone of his voice I knew that this normally upbeat real estate agent wasn’t himself.
Jim started out by saying he’d been working with a client, a middle-aged lady named Susan, who was going to purchase a home and move into it with her sister Beth. The three of them had been viewing houses for several weeks, and were quickly becoming friends. Susan was bright, kind, sarcastic, funny, loyal, and appreciative of the time that Jim was spending with her. She was the perfect client. For Jim, going to see property with the two of them was more than pleasant; it was fun.
Last week Jim emailed Susan about seeing a new property that had just hit the market. Susan didn’t reply. (She had mentioned that December was an incredibly busy time at work.) Then Jim texted her on Monday with a comment that was sure to trigger a quick-witted response. Again, no reply.
Jim worried if he had at some point, let his friendship with the two spoil their business relationship. He decided to shift his perspective and adopt a more business-like demeanor. With no reply from Susan, he texted Beth on Tuesday night, letting her know that the house three doors down had sold for the full asking price, which was good news, as Beth was going to put her home on the market.
Beth texted back, “I’m sorry to tell you this. Susan died suddenly last week.”
Jim was stunned. He imagined a car accident…or a heart attack that had robbed Susan, her grown children, Beth and the rest of the family, of decades with Susan and so many moments of laughter and love.
Jim texted Beth, asking her what had happened. Moments passed before Beth wrote that Susan had taken her own life. She had lost her job. Divorced, unemployed, and living with her sister, Susan saw herself as a failure at life – blind to the fact that she enriched the lives of so many others. Susan was stuck in a moment of hopelessness and despair. She ended her life, unable to see the devastation and the countless “if-only’s” that she left behind. And Jim, who had only known her for a couple of months, wondered what he could have said or done that might have made a difference…that might have helped Susan understand there was too much good left in her life to experience.
I hung up with Jim and headed to the airport, thinking about our conversation. Jim is a good man with good intentions. I don’t know if he could have done something that would have taken the thought of suicide out of Susan’s mind, but I do know that he’d have tried if he had any inclination that she was depressed.
An hour later I was boarding a plane, shuffling down a crowded aisle when our forward progress came to a stop. Then I saw the elderly man who was struggling to put his carry-on bag in the overhead bin. Our line waited impatiently as the old gentleman failed on multiple attempts, while the able-bodied, late-30’s businessman dressed in a sharp suit stood immediately behind him, and ignored the senior’s efforts – and his mounting embarrassment. Finally, the old man succeeded. The businessman brushed passed him and sat down. As I walked by the businessman, I leaned in and said to him, “You could have helped that old man.” He wasn’t happy with my comment. He told me to mind my own business (so to speak).
After reflecting on this, I believe I did the right thing. I don’t think the businessman was intentionally allowing the older gentleman to struggle. He might have been preoccupied with an upcoming meeting. He might have been uncomfortable stepping in to assist. Hopefully next time, he’ll be more aware, and he won’t hesitate to help someone.
The point is, you never know how your act of kindness will affect someone else’s attitude – or even their life. There is an abundance of negativity in our world, so much so that simple kindnesses are magnified in their appreciation and in their lasting impact. Do NOT underestimate the impact that your kindness can have. The idea of random acts of kindness is so important to me that I’ve included it in my personal mission statement (that I review regularly), and I preach it in my seminars.
During this season of giving, make it a point to perform random acts of kindness – from checking on a senior citizen in your neighborhood, or dropping off a plate of Christmas cookies for local first-responders, to paying for lunch for the person behind you in the drive-through lane. Reach out to people who are stressed with family, medical or financial pressures. Send a card to someone who lost a loved one this year and may be grieving during what can be a particularly painful holiday season. Make performing random acts of kindness a part of your life. You will be repaid ten times over.
Last week I was having lunch with my son at a fast food restaurant. I noticed that he was staring over my shoulder with a look of concern, when all of a sudden he jumped up and ran out the door. When I turned around to see what was going on, I noticed that an elderly woman with a cane was having trouble getting from the parking lot up the curb to the restaurant. My son went to her aid and helped her through the entrance.
It was a simple act that took less than a minute. But it nourished that sweet lady’s soul.
And made a father very proud.