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The purpose of life is a life of purpose.
Do every act of your life as if it were your last. --Marcus Gurelius
This is the true joy of life, the being used up for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; being a force of nature instead of a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances, complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy, I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the community, and as long as I live, it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can. I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work, the more I live. Life is no "brief candle" to me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got hold of for a moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations.
—George Bernard Shaw
TWO DAYS BEFORE HY FIFTIETH BIRTHDAY I had a heart attack. It was a most surprising random act of kindness. I had lived the previous thirty years of my life as a powerful, successful, and amazingly productive man. I had also lived so cut off from my emotions that I couldn't even fathom what the whole fuss about feelings was all about. I had worn out the efforts of three good women, took pride in my unfeeling logic, denied that there was anything wrong or missing in my life, and was prepared to march stubbornly forward.
Until I was felled and terrified by my own heart. That experience unlocked a lifetime of buried emotions. So, without knowing it, when the doctors revived me, they delivered me to a life fuller and more beautiful than I had ever imagined.
If you bring forth what is inside of you, what you bring forth will save you. If you don't bring forth what is inside of you, what you don't bring forth will destroy you.
We cannot live only for ourselves. A thousand fibers connect us with our fellow men; and among those fibers, as sympathetic threads, our actions run as causes, and they come back to us as effects.
I am done with great things and big plans, great institutions and big success. I am for those tiny, invisible loving human forces that work from individual to individual, creeping through the crannies of the world like so many rootlets, or like the capillary oozing of water, which, if given time, will rent the hardest monuments of pride.
FEAR grows out of the things we think; it lives in our minds.
CORFASSION grows out of the things we are, and lives in our hearts.
WE HAD JUST SEARCHED A SMALL VILLAGE that had been suspected of harboring Vietcong. We really tore the place up—it wasn't hard to do—but had found nothing. Just up the trail from the village we were ambushed. I got hit and don't remember anything more until I woke up with a very old Vietnamese woman leaning over me. Before I passed out again I remembered seeing her in the village we had just destroyed and I knew I was going to die. When I woke again, the hole in my left side had been cleaned and bandaged, and the woman was leaning over me again offering me a cup of warm tea. As I was drinking the tea and wondering why I was still alive, a helicopter landed nearby to take me back. The woman quietly got up and disappeared down the trail.
Some day, after we have mastered the winds, the waves, the tides, and gravity, we shall harness the energies of love. Then, for the second time in the history of the world, man will have discovered fire.
—PIERRE TEILHARD DE CHARDIN
I live high in the hills and my body is getting old. One day I was out in my garden fussing with weeds and grew tired. I decided to lie back on *he grass and rest like I used to when I was a small boy I woke up some minutes later with a neighbor whom I had never met leaning over me, all out of breath, asking me if I was okay. He had looked out his window two blocks up the hill and seen me lying on my back on the grass, looking, I am sure, like the victim of a stroke or heart attack, and had run all the way down the hill to check on me. It was embarrassing, hut it was also so wonderfully touching. After we had sorted it all out, he let out a deep breath and lay down on tile grass beside me. We both stayed there very quietly for a while and then he said, "thank you for deciding to take your nap out on the lawn where l could see you. The sky is such a beautiful tiling and I cannot remember the last time I really looked at it."
It is one of the most beautiful compensations of life that no man can sincerely try to help another without helping himself.
—Ralph Waldo Emerson
This only is charity, to do all, all that we can.
I was living in Chicago and going through what was a particularly cold winter—both in temperature and in my personal lice. One evening I was walking home from a bar where I had been drinking alone, feeling sorry for myself; when I saw a homeless man standing over an exhaust grate in front of a department store. He was wearing a filthy sportcoat and approaching everyone who passed by for money:
I was too immersed in my own troubles to deal with him so I crossed the street. As I went by, I looked over and saw a businessman come out of the store and pull a ski parka out of a bag and hand it to the homeless man. For a moment both the man and I were frozen in time as the businessman turned and walked away. Then the man looked across the street at me. He shook his head slowly and I knew he was crying. It was the last time I have ever been able to disappear into my own sorrow
When I was going through a very difficult time, someone coifed me up and prayed piano music for me on my answering machine. It mode me feel very loved—and I never discovered who had done it.
Give light, and the darkness will disappear of itself.
The heart that breaks open can contain the whole universe.
Experience praises the most happy the one who made the most people happy.
The beginning and end of Torah is performing acts of loving kindness.
I AM A CORPORATE LAWYER, and several years ago I was at my first closing. The investment banker came to deliver a check for $55 million to my client, and before my client arrived, I went to the Xerox machine to copy the check for our records. I put the check in the feeder of the copier, and it promptly shredded it! I told the banker about the mutilated check, and a moment later my client arrived, eager to receive the money. The banker looked at me and said to the client, "1 can't believe it! I forgot the check!" He left and returned an hour later with a new check, and I kept my job.
My husband and I travel a lot, and at the time this happened I had a horse, a wonderful horse. We were out of town when a one-hundred-mile endurance horse race (that's a race where people from all over New England get together and travel as fast as they can for one hundred miles) went tight past our driveway. My horse, whose name was Dusty, decided that she wanted to join the race. So she jumped over the fence. Galloped off. No saddle. Nobody on her back.
The next day when my husband and I returned home there was a note on the door from the sheriff saying that my horse bad gone back to the barn on the other side of town where she had been born eighteen years before. So I drove there. It was a lovely old farm, owned by people I didn't know.
The new owners were a man, his with, and their children, two little gifts ages seven and five. And sure enough, there in the corral behind the barn were the two its and Dusty. The man told me that that morning when they had gotten up, the little gifts had started screaming because at the top of the hill, with the sun rising behind her, was this beautiful palomino horse. They lured her into their corral and proceeded to spend the day brushing her and treating her a lot better than she had been for many years under my sometimes care.
They looked so happy. The seven-year-old girl turned and, with a trembling lip, said, "Can I ride her before you take her back?" l said that she could have her for another half-hour or so. And then I went to the local general store and bought a bottle of apple cider: When I returned, the girls told me that they had always wished for a horse but their parents really didn't have the money for one. I sat them down and told them I was going to give them Dusty. And that I wanted them to promise me that someday when they were grown up they each would find a little girl—a little girl they didn't know—and give her some very special gift that she had always wanted.
Then we celebrated with a bubbling glass of apple cider, toasting to Dusty.
It is in the shelter of each other that the people live.
FOR YEARS, the Oakland, California neighbors watched as Mary's house and yard slowly decayed. Mary was an elderly, wheelchair-bound widow who could no longer manage the necessary repairs and maintenance on her house. One day a couple of neighbors—a bus driver and an auto worker—went down to the city's Office of Community Development, got forty-five gallons of Mary's favorite color of paint and a handful of painting supplies, and set to work. By the time they had finished, they had also put in a new lawn, cut back the tangled shrubs, and topped off the paint job with eye-catching trim.
Our deeds determine us, just as much as we determine our deeds.
Whenever you are to do a thing, though it can never be known but to yourself, ask yourself how you would act were all the world looking at you and act accordingly.
Do everything with a mind that lets go. Do not expect praise or reward.
My grandmother was born in Russia at a time of great confusion and instability. She immigrated to this country as a young girl and ended up marrying a man who was extraordinarily successful. She could have lived in the fanciest neighborhood and eaten only at the best restaurants; instead she lived in a very modest area and would go to Woolworth's for coffee. In those days, a cup of coffee cost five cents, and whenever my grandmother would buy a cup, she would always leave a five-dollar tip. Her explanation was simple: "They work hard for their money."
Man should not consider his material possessions his own, but common to all, so as to share them without hesitation when others are in need.
—ST. THOMAS AQUINAS
Wherever there is a human being there is an opportunity for kindness.
AN ACT OF KINDNESS can sometimes take incredible courage. I was at the county fair with my mother many years ago. I remember it was a very, very hot day and all around us children and parents were melting down. We were walking behind a woman with two small children. The children were crying and whining and the mother was getting increasingly upset. Finally she started to scream at them to shut up; then she turned around and stuck them both very hard. Just to see this happen right in front of me made me feel like I had been hit as well.
Of course her kids started crying even more and the mother was on the verge of completely losing control when my mother walked up to her, touched her arm, and said something like, "You poor dear, don't worry, sometimes things just get out of control for a moment." Then my mother offered to take the children over to the ice cream stand, buy them some ice cream, and sit with them while the woman took a little walk to compose herself. She returned about ten minutes later, thanked my mother, hugged her children, and went on.
When I was in college, I worked part-time at a sporting goods store. There was a kid who would come by two or three times a week to visit with this baseball mitt that he wanted to buy. My manager and I would joke about him not only because he was so dedicated and persistent, but also because he had picked the best and most expensive mitt in the store to obsess over.
This went on for months. The kid would come in, and you could tell he was so relieved that the mitt was still there. He would put it on, pound his fist into the pocket a couple of times, and then very carefully put it back onto the shelf and leave. Finally, one day he came in with a shoebox and a smile about eight miles wide and announced that he wanted to buy the mitt. So the manager brought the mitt over to the cash register while the kid counted out a shoebox worth of nickels, quarters, and dimes. His stash came to exactly $19.98. The mitt cost $79.98, not including tax. My manager looked at the price tag, and sure enough the number 7 was a little smudged, enough that a desperately hopeful seven-year-old could imagine it to be a 1. Then he looked at me, smiled, and very carefully recounted. "Yap, exactly $19.98." Wrapping up the mitt, he gave it to the boy.
Shall we make a new rule of life from tonight: always to try to be a little kinder than is necessary.
—JAMES M. BARRIE
You hear stories about tourists trying to drive in San Francisco all the time. I discovered a whole new twist one day when I was walking up a particularly steep hill and saw a car stopped near the top with a very frightened woman inside, As I watched, she made a few attempts to get moving but each time seemed to lose more ground than she gained. Then a man came out of the corner market. The next thing I know, she gets out of the car and goes around to the passenger side while he climbs into the driver's seat and promptly drives the car up over the top of the dreaded hill. By then, I had reached the store where the helpful man's wife was standing, watching the proceedings. She told me that her husband, who owns the market, has been doing that for years, and that during the summertime—peak tourist season—he will "rescue" as many as ten scared drivers a week.
The only justification for ever looking down on somebody is to pick them up.
WHEN I WAS IN HIGH SCHOOL, I had a friend who asked me to help him plant some weeping willow trees down by a creek. It seems that he had watched every year as the banks of this creek had been increasingly eaten away. It had gotten to the point where the water was threatening to overflow into the nearby housing development. My friend had obviously done his research; he found out that willows grew quickly, easily, and with a great spreading root system that drinks up lots of water and would stabilize the creek bank. When I met him at the creek, he had a huge bundle of willow branches in his arms. We spent most of the day planting these willow sprigs up and down tile endangered curve.
Many years later, I was home visiting and found myself walking down by that creek. Where we spent that afternoon is now a beautiful idyllic bend with a long curving row of large graceful willows bending out over the watm;
It is the mark of a good action that it appears inevitabte in retrospect.
I had just graduated from college and had gone back to the town I grew up in to visit friends. My parents had sold the family home a few years back and moved out of state, so I also took the opportunity to drive by the old house just to see it. Out in the front yard, perched in "my" giant oak tree, was a boy about ten years old. I stopped the car, went over to introduce myself, and told the boy that when I was his age I practically lived in that tree. He thought that was real funny because he said his mother was always telling people that he lives in that tree.
While we were standing there talking, laughing, and feeling very good about our shared tree, a car drove up to the curb right in front of us. A middle-aged man got out of the driver's side, came around to the passenger side, and helped a very frail-looking old man out of the car. I guess we were both staring, but the old man just walked right up to the tree, patted it on the side, looked at us, and said, "1 planted this tree sixty years ago when there was nothing here but fields. 1 still like to come visit it now and then." Then he turned around, got back into the car, and drove away. We were both so shocked we didn't say a word until after the old man had left. Then the boy just looked at me and said, "Wow."
Excerpted from Random Acts of Kindness by Tracy Johnson. Copyright © 2010 The Editors of Conari Press. Excerpted by permission of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.
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