Sunday, May 23, 2010

A Great Small Kindness

There are many ways that we can show kindness. We can do great and grand things. Give away huge sums to charity. Give up everything and devote our lives to helping others in the many areas where help is desperately needed. Some are able to do less but do not shine less brightly for more modest sacrifice. And there are small kindnesses anyone can perform at any time.
Holding a door for someone, lending a quick hand, you know what I mean, even these are a flash of spiritual light. The other day I let an older woman cut in front of me at the grocery and she said she would say 5 Hail Mary's for me which was so sweet I am feeling very blessed.
  When I think of the ways we as humans can show kindness to each other I always remember one of the kindest things I've ever heard of someone doing. It was an Act of Great Small Kindness. Something that does not create a huge ripple of change in the world but in it's generosity is no less powerful for being small.  When I heard this story as a child I was so impressed. It was about a person who was not very demonstrative.  She would always call me over for a kiss when I was with her but was not one of those people who made a big fuss over children. Her manner was usually reserved and that may be why it made such an impact on me.

My grandmother was a flapper. She was a wild girl who bobbed her gorgeous auburn hair, wore her skirts too short and rolled down her stockings as soon as she was away from her house. Her strict Irish father and staid German mother probably despaired of her. I guess you could say she was "The Original Perpetually Grounded". She frequented dance halls and speakeasies. She once went on a date with a gangster and as they were coming down the stairs to leave a club someone shot him. At least that's the story I was told and I have no reason to doubt it. Her Big Love was to dance. She was part of the rage for dance contests in that decade and in her early twenties was part of a winning team....so of course she married him. And then she got pregnant. And then he got mad. And he beat her up and pushed her down the stairs. And she had a miscarriage. And she got a divorce. Things were pretty wild and loose in the roaring twenties but divorce was still a touchy subject in some places. So I guess to some people she may have been a fallen woman. I never heard that her family was harsh with her for this but apparently the decision was reached that she should leave St. Louis. She went to live with her sister in another state.

She found work in the Sunbeam bread factory and while there she met the foreman. A widower. An older man in his 30's with two children, a son and daughter. The boy the oldest they were aged around 10 and 12 at that time if I remember correctly. They were living with family members while he had needed to leave them behind to travel and find work. His first wife had been ill a long time and I'm not really sure how long it had been since she passed away. But I do know that he and my grandmother were married and moved  to New York to become a family.
I don't know how the children accepted her at first. She didn't say whether they were excited or dismayed to have a new Mom but I do know this.
My grandmother was put in a position where it would be difficult to know how to respond. " Um maybe" thinking inside, oh Lord what do I do about this, or "we will see if it can be worked in somehow." Or maybe some people would feel very uncomfortable and ask the father to intervene and say no. But...

When my grandmother became pregnant the little girl came to her pretty young stepmother and asked.
"If the baby is a girl would you name it after my mother?"
And my Grandmother, said Yes. And she did. Not just added as a middle or extra but made it the given and called name of her firstborn child. That is how my mother got her name.

We know what our thoughts are when we are expecting a child. We plan every aspect of what we wish for this new life. A name is such a personal and important choice. Whatever my Grandmothers thoughts were for this most special of events in her life she set them aside for this child who had suffered such a huge loss in her own. She sacrificed her own wishes for the sake of another. She named her daughter after her husbands first wife.  Was this at all weird for her? Or was it no problem at all? I don't know.  But to me it seems a truly selfless act of love.

On the face of the whole world this is just a tiny blip of history. Not even on the radar of Great events.  Ultimately much of her life was hard work and hardship. A plain and simple regular life lived without fanfare, fame or fortune.  But to me the Generosity of her Spirit in committing this Great Small Kindness is a Blinding Star of Spiritual Beauty.

I am on my way out of town to work again for a couple days. If I don't answer comments it's not because I don't adore you. You know I do.  It is because my Almost Amish self will be out of contact. In the meantime, do you know of any Acts of Great Small Kindness? They can't be too small to be great.
Tell me about them. I will visit when I get back.



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13 comments:

  1. Wow, what your grandma did was truly an Act of Great Small Kindness.

    I was stranded in a really remote province in southern Philippines one time and the single ATM machine was offline... This was at the height of the many kidnappings, so you can imagine how scared I was. The bank manager loaned me money out of her own funds, drove & introduced me to her friends who owned the one and only hotel. These friends, in turn, showed me around town, took me to dinner, and drove me to the airport the following day. Me, a complete stranger to them. I could never forget their hospitality and their kindness shown to me. Really, the kindness of strangers.

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  2. I loved this story on your grandmother. I was thinking if you could start something ( I know your busy, but just a power of suggestion...maybe?)

    That we do a post on our ancestors. It would be so interesting, and such a way to get to know our favorite bloggers even more.

    WOuld ya? WOuld ya, please???

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  3. That's an amazing story. And an amazing grandmother. I had a couple of amazing grandmothers too, and I like the Empress's idea. Sometimes it seems like modern life affords us less opportunities to be amazing. Oh well, our grandmothers didn't have Glee.

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  4. How incredibly kind. You are right this is one of the most self-less acts of love I have ever read.
    Thank you for sharing such a touching story. Wow.

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  5. Very lovely and inspiring. I'm going to start posting those little stories of kindness. Maybe one day I'll find one as lovely as yours.

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  6. You know I keep saying that it is the little things that really matter in life and it is. Yes, there are big things and big moments but it's what you do with all that time and those little moments in between that really matters and makes for either a good or not so good life. Your Grandmother did something wonderful naming your Mother in such a way, which started out as a little word Yes but became so much more. Lovely story

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  7. Such a beautiful story. Thanks for sharing it:)

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  8. I love this post. And I am regularly amazed at the lovely, selfless things some people do. When my husband and I were traveling years ago, we were unaware that there was a tax to leave the small airport in St. Kits - it was something like $30 US each. We didn't have any cash, they didn't take credit cards, and the ATM at the airport was out of service. Tt looked like we would miss our flight - until the very young (teenagers, possibly) people ahead of us heard what was going on, and pooled the rest of their cash to pay our tax. They refused to let us take their address to pay them back. I still remember them, and how they saved our memory of our first trip together!

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  9. Amazing and beautiful story. Thanks for sharing it.

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  10. That is an amazing story, and a huge act of selflessness. You are lucky to have that in your life. My girls fight all the time, but when real sadness creeps in (as with all girls), they do nice little things for each other... they just seem to know when to do it. My 12 year old will do a chore for my older one when she is sad or my big girl will go to the store to get the little one a slurpee when she's having a bad day ... just little things, they barely notice (and quickly forget) but it makes my day.

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  11. What a beautiful story. I love your grandmother. That was a very very kind and selfless thing to do and most certainly made an extraordinary difference in the lives of her new stepchildren. Little kindnesses make all the difference I believe. It's what keeps all our hearts beating and loving each other and reaching out into the world for more.

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  12. A little kindness really does go a long way and the kindness of strangers is really amazing! Thanks for sharing!

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