A number of years ago, I went to the VA Hospital to visit the Veterans with a Young Professionals group from my church. This was something we did a few times a year, usually around the major holidays of Christmas, Easter, and 4th of July. In general, it was a pretty simple thing to do… We would walk in, shake some hands, sit for a few minutes, and wish them a happy holiday. Often times we would take “Thank You” cards and during our Christmas visit we would even sing a few carols.
In my mind, these visits were nothing more than simple gestures. I had no clue whether or not any of the Veterans cared that we had come to visit. They were always nice to us and the VA Administrator would always send us a Thank You letter after our visit. But, it was just a simple 1-hour visit. Or so I thought…
It was the weekend before Valentine’s Day and our group had scheduled another visit. It was a last-second thing for me to go this time as I had other plans fall through, so I wasn’t really in the “service” mindset. Needless to say, I stayed at the back of the group as we all shuffled into the common room where the Vets were eating and hanging out. As I came through the door, one of the girls in our group was handing roses to each of us.
“Take these to the two old ladies in the back” she said, as she handed me two beautiful long stem roses.
As I approached the back of the room where the ladies sat, I smiled and asked them if they would like a rose. I will never forget their response:
Lady One: “Son of a b*tch. Just when you think that nobody gives a damn, people like you guys show up.”
Lady Two: “I told you people still care.”
These words left me completely speechless.
I can’t say for sure what those two ladies were conversing about as I simply smiled and walked away after handing each of them their rose, but it seemed that Lady One was discouraged and Lady Two was apparently telling her that hope still existed. If that actually was the case, my actions were in God’s perfect timing.
But it was such a small gesture?! How could it actually mean so much to someone? The fact is, often times it’s the smallest gestures that count the most. Especially when they’re not expected.
That day those two old ladies candidly changed my life for the better. Since then, I make a conscious effort to use these “little gestures” very carefully. For, just as a kind word or a smile can brighten someone’s day, the opposite effect can be made with a stern look or a snide remark.
Understanding this, I think it is important to take advantage of the opportunities to give encouragement whenever possible, even when it means going out of our way, but ESPECIALLY when it takes no effort at all. Just imagine how different the world would be if we simply gave a damn about each other?
That said, here’s to smiling at the strangers on the street, to saying “please” and “thank you”, and to complimenting a friends new shirt / hat / shoes / haircut. Here’s to being patient in the checkout line at the store, to letting someone merge in traffic, and to holding the door open for a stranger, even if it slows you down.