Mother’s Day, as it’s intended to do, got me thinking about my mom, who passed away in 2003.
I just wrote about her in August, but on Mother’s Day I started thinking again about what I wrote then: that I’ve never known anybody else as deeply loved by as many people.
She wasn’t rich or famous or highly educated or socially prominent or even particularly sociable.
Yet she deeply touched others’ lives. She managed this without making a single grand gesture. Never donated a million dollars to charity or had a million to donate. Never started a foundation bearing her name.
She did it just by loving people, and by being kind to them, and by going out of her way for them.
From watching her, I learned it really doesn’t take an awful lot to make a meaningful difference for someone else.
Sometimes we can permanently help another person in five minutes, if we’ll just take five minutes out of our frantic day. Or occasionally an hour or two.
I want to become more mindful of that in my routine comings and goings, as I deal with people at church and at the grocery and in my apartment business.
So many folks have enriched my own life through small kindnesses: bosses, coworkers, church friends and even, here and there, strangers.
I’ve told this story before, too. Having been a wastrel and a dropout, I returned to the University of Kentucky in my mid-20s. I was married and struggling financially and working dead-end jobs and sick of being poor.
It’s impossible to say now how others viewed me, but I saw myself as a hapless redneck, socially and academically inferior, with millions of spent brain cells I’d fried to a crisp. After I started my coursework, I found that when I opened my mouth in class, occasionally the room would erupt in laughter at my hick accent. I was scared.
Then an English professor, Guy Davenport, one of UK’s more distinguished faculty members, saw something in me I didn’t see in myself.
He opened up his office to me. I’d stop by unannounced and chat with him for an hour, and he’d put up with me. In ways direct and indirect, he assured me I could do it after all, that I was worth his spending his free time on. I possessed the clear ability, as he once phrased it, “to write a complete sentence.”
Whether or not he realized it, that was exactly what I needed. This time, thanks to him and other benevolent teachers, I stayed in school, probably for too long. I didn’t just finish my degree. I earned three of them.
For most of my adult life now, I’ve earned a tolerable living working with words, by speaking and writing and editing, rather than doing the manual labor I would have hated.
There’s nothing wrong with manual labor; I hail from a long line of people who worked with their hands. But I would have hated it.
I wanted something else, and Davenport, along with those other generous professors — James Baker Hall, Ed McClanahan, Ken Davis, Ed Lambeth, David Dick, to name a few — went out of their way to help me get it.
I want to be that type of person, the one who goes a bit out of his way — although I’m not sure whether I am. I do try. I think I’ll try harder.
Maybe you already try as well. Maybe you should try harder, too. (That would be your call, of course.)
Like my mom, most of us, if we’re going to make life better for others, won’t manage to do it through one big grand gesture. We don’t have those resources.
If we’re to do it, it will have to be through a hundred smaller, mindful contributions.
It could be choosing to eat lunch with the new co-worker nobody much likes. Or stopping to help a motorist whose car has broken down. Or writing a kid a glowing letter of recommendation for a scholarship she sorely needs. Or taking a pal whose son has been jailed to a ballgame. Or buying diapers and baby food for a single mother.
It’s a matter of showing love. It stems from an inner well of compassion.
And we never know which tiny deed might alter somebody’s life forever.
Paul Prather is pastor of Bethesda Church near Mount Sterling. You may email him at email@example.com.