Doing a kind gesture for someone is like throwing a stone in a lake. You never know what the ripple effect will be.
We toss our stone, knowing once it has left our grasp, the outcome is beyond us. There is nothing left for us to do but stand by and count the expanding ripples… one, two, three, foooooour. Just how many will it create? How far will they flow? This is the mystery we cast.
The Soldier – He is not staring so much as taking me in; contemplating what I have done from a deep introspective place. His face reveals nothing of his conclusions. I’m intrigued; questionably uncomfortable. I expected the brief, “Thank you” his fellow soldiers had given me, maybe a nod, possibly a paper cup toast… not this. At last he speaks, “I appreciate that. No one has thanked me for my service in the three years I’ve been in. Not even my parents.” Now I read the shock in his eyes; skepticism in his tight pupils. A lump forms in my throat. Who knew a cup of coffee could do this? A simple act of appreciation to a group of people who aren’t paid enough, loved enough, or thanked enough for the work they do. I smile, “You’re very welcome. I mean it! I appreciate what you do.”
The Clerk – She wasn’t the one I intended to receive the card. I’d left the valentine for Sheila who has helped me locate a few children’s books over the last year. But this poor woman looks like she’s suffering from a bad case of Sales Syndrome: long hours, little pay, angry customers. She opens the envelope marked “For You”, looking a tad confused. I secretly watch as she reads it. Then reads it again, looking around to see if someone she knows is hiding behind the Early Reader section. She reads it again and smiles. Sheila comes back carrying a stack of books. “Look what I found. Someone left it here on the register.” They share the card. “Who do you think left it?” Sheila asks. “I don’t know but it reminded me of my mom. We used to spend hours making Victorian valentines to give out each year. Maybe I should do it this year?” I’ve left dozens of these cards in the last two years but this is the first time I’ve watched someone open one.
The Dollar Store Diva – Don’t tell anyone but she’s been secretly plotting her 14 Gestures of Love during Spanish class, like, forever… Everyone knows a pre-teen with a plan and a smart phone is unstoppable. Last year she and her Mom left “Love Baskets” on their neighbors doorsteps. This year she’s rockin’ this challenge all on her own… with eight of her closest BFFs. They’re leaving them on the nightstand of every resident in the retirement home. Fourteen? Oh please! Try forty-six people. That’s a four and a six. Like put together. Oh yeah! Bring on the second hand baskets, the feathers, tissue paper flowers and sparkles. Call her a regular Dollar Store Diva. Call her a Thrift Store Scholar. Just don’t call her Maybe because she’s sooooooo doing this! Oh yeah!
The Back Splash
It was on Valentine’s Day two years ago I found myself behind five men in the grocery store checkout line who were doing a last call. You’ve seen them before; those men who are scrambling every year to play romantic. Each of them had their card, box of chocolates, and red roses. Their faces looked flat; resigned, obligated. Not much is known about Saint Valentine, a priest who was executed by Claudius II on February 14, 270, other than that the man existed. In 496 the feast of St. Valentine was established by Pope Gelasius I, who included Valentine among the Saints “… whose names are justly reverenced among men, but whose acts are known only to God.” I was studying this line of hurried men thinking of St. Valentine, the Patron Saint of affianced couples, bee keepers, engaged couples, fainting, greetings, happy marriages, love, lovers, travelers and young people. Would he have imagined today’s modern celebration of love to look anything like this? Surely, surely love could be expressed in a better way.
And so I came up with a challenge: to carry out 14 gestures of love between the first and fourteenth of February. It’s not about spending big money, or grandiose public displays of love. In fact, this challenge is the exact opposite. These gestures are humble, simplistic, creative, and quietly carried out. Gestures that pack more emotion than materialism.
When I took this challenge on I had hoped to cast out a few smiles, warm fuzzies, and tender hearts. I hoped to inspire others to define Valentine’s Day by their own standard, with or without a mate. I wanted to encourage others to stay open to opportunities that allow for acts of kindness because once you start looking they will come. Oh yes, they do come.
I did not expect daughters to take on the challenge themselves. I did not expect to have my friends ask me to run the challenge again in 2012. I did not expect Vets to be left speechless in coffee shops. I certainly did not expect this challenge to touch and humble me. I am changed from doing it. Now I’m as excited for Valentine’s Day as I am for Christmas. I can’t wait to sneak around parking lots, giggling like a school girl as I stash valentines on cars. I can’t wait for the opportunities to come.
We cast our stone, and quietly count the ripples but we do not expect the back splash.