This morning I heard a story on the car radio that moved me. A woman was waiting at the airport gate for her flight. Seated near her in a wheelchair was an old man, waiting for another flight. He was alone. His grey hair was long and matted, and he sat hunched over, staring at the floor. The woman approached him and asked if she could brush his hair. The old man said, “I guess so.” Just as she finished, the gate attendant came and wheeled him down the ramp, onto the airplane. In a few minutes the attendant returned and told the woman the old man had started crying. He couldn’t understand the woman’s kind gesture.
“Why would anyone care enough about me to brush my hair?” he’d asked the attendant.
It reminded me of another old man. This man was homeless and a frequent fixture at a highway intersection in the Texas Hill Country town where I used to live. In the late afternoon, when the summer sun was at its most brutal, sometimes I would see him sitting under a large oak tree. One day he was there, sitting in a folding chair with a white towel wrapped around his shoulders. His long unkept hair was wet, and a woman was standing behind him, cutting his hair. She had several large, plastic gallons of water on the ground. The image of her kindness has stayed with me for years.
Both of these women were giving love and compassion in intimate ways most of us—myself included—would be uncomfortable doing. But there are other meaningful ways we can give to others.
What if we give the gift of loving kindness—to total strangers—this Christmas and Hanukkah?
Instead of making the holidays all about us and the minutia of to-do lists and wrapping paper, what if we step outside ourselves and connect with someone we don’t know? Like the person behind us in line at the grocery store. We might comment on something in their basket and ask, “Do you like that brand?” or smile and say, “So how’s your day been?” We won’t wait for an opening to tell them about our day, but comment on what they say, and get them talking. I do this frequently because a sad, unhappy looking person now has a smile on their face, and that makes me feel good.
What if we’re the only person they talk to that day, or the only person who’s nice to them?
Great doors are hung from small hinges. We may never know if our small kindness of saying, “Hi,” to someone as we go in and out of a store, or telling the woman behind the counter her sweater is a pretty color is the best thing that’s happened to them all day or all week, but that’s okay. When we extend ourselves to someone else, we’re giving them—and ourselves—an invaluable gift of love.