Note: This event took place in Louisville, Kentucky right after a big storm ravaged the city and left many without utilities for many days.
A mother was rushing down the street, young child in tow. As she passed a line of parking meters, she saw a young woman digging in her purse, look pained, then turn around and start digging in her car. Her frustration and upset was obvious. The mother stopped and watched about 20 seconds then said, softly, “Excuse me?”
The frantic woman came out of her car and looked around a little annoyed at being interrupted in her digging. The mother held out some small change. “I think you may have need of this? Please take what you need.”
The look of gratitude on the frantic woman’s face was something to behold. She said, “I can’t find any change for the meter. I have to get in there before closing time and pay my water bill. I was
busy cleaning up after the storm and forgot to get down here. I simply cannot afford a parking ticket this month.”
The mother said, holding out the change, said “I understand. Breathe. Here, take this, please.”
The frantic woman was hesitant, but then she agreed that she probably only needed 35 cents, which she took and hurried on her way.
The child asked the mother, “Why did you give that woman money, and how did you know she she didn’t have change for her meter?”
Mother said, “She pulled into that meter just as we were getting out of the car. She was digging in her purse and in her car all the time we were putting money in the meter. I just guessed that she didn’t find meter change. I also guessed, that as she is parked right in front of the water department,
that her water was disconnected and she needed to get it paid so her water could be turned back on quickly. It is almost closing time. If she didn’t get in there quick, they would be closed and she would have to come back tomorrow. That is why we were in such a hurry. I had change, so I gave it to her.”
Child: “You mean like us? Did you know her?”
Mother: “Yes. Like us. I always pay the water bill online. But because we did not have power when I got paid, I was busy worrying about not having power and forgot to pay the water bill. So we are here to get ours turned back on. No. I have never seen her before.”
Child: “Why did you give her money?”
Mother: “I recognized her need, I had change, so I gave it to her. It seemed the right thing to do at the moment. It wasn’t much, but it made a world of difference to her, it was all she needed at that moment.”
Child: “But if you dont know her, how will she pay it back?”
Mother: “You can’t pay back such a kindness. You can only pay it forward. I hope that someday when she sees someone else in need that she will be reminded of the kindness in her time of need and will help as she can. Besides, I felt well paid by the gratitude and the look of relief on her face. Did you see how big her smile was? Do you remember that time on the highway when we had a flat? A man that we did not know stopped to help us change the tire? That was really a good thing because I could not get the jack out and my cell phone was not working. Remember?”
Child: “Yes. Was this like that?”
Mother: “Yes. I feel that by giving this woman meter change, that I partially paid the flat changing kindness forward and I hope that woman will do the same when she meets someone in need.”
Child: “Why do people help strangers?”
Mother: “Hmmm. Because it makes them feel good inside to help someone they don’t know who they know cannot ever pay them back directly. Because most people that help others believe they make the world a better place by helping, by offering a helping hand. Because, probably, at some point, someone else helped us and so we feel almost honor bound to help when and where we can. Because it feels like the right thing to do. Because we know that when we help others at some point, somewhere down the road, that kindness is returned to us in ways we could not even imagine or expect. There are probably lots of other reasons that I can’t think of right now. We call it Random Acts of Kindness.”
Child: “Oh. OK. … When I pushed that little girl on the merry-go-round the other day was that Random Act of Kindness?”
Child: “And when I took my sister’s laundry out of the dryer and folded it? Was that a Random Act of Kindness?”
Mother: “Yes. If you didn’t expect to get paid for it.”
Child: “And when I picked up the book that lady dropped?”
Mother: “Yes. Why did you do those things?”
Child: “The little girl asked me to push her. I guess my sister will do the same thing for me, maybe, some day. But I guess I don’t care if she does. The lady didn’t seem to know she dropped her book.”
Mother: “How did it make you feel when you did those things? And did you know all of those people?”
Child: “I felt good. I felt happy. No. I knew my sister. I didn’t know any of the others. A bigger kid came by and told me to get on and he would push us both. I held the little girl and we hung on together and he pushed us really fast. That was really fun. I like helping people.”
Mother: “And that is why other people help people, even those they don’t know.”
Child: “OK.” And she ran on ahead to hold the door open for a lady with a cane.
I hope this is a lesson the child will use in her own life. In the past, she usually felt like if she did something for someone that they owed her some type of payment. I hope after this discussion that she will not feel as if someone should pay her for every thing she does.
Anonymous, Louisville, Kentucky, USA