If not love, a human being’s greatest character trait is kindness.
Our potential for it is practically unlimited. It changes lives. Worlds. Its residual warmth outlasts the act itself. We never forget an unexpected display of it.
I was the recipient of such many years ago. I was seventeen, and rushing to my summer job on a bicycle along a two-lane road with a gravel shoulder. Being a little late, I stood up to pedal. The next thing I remember was losing my balance and beginning to fall.
The right-side pedal had sheared off at its base.
The fall knocked me out cold. I must have laid there for some time, because when I regained consciousness there was a line of fifteen to twenty cars idled behind me. My bicycle lay partly in the road. I stood up, gathered my things, and began to walk home.
Car after car crawled by me. I finally realized that I must look a mess. I put my hand to my face and it returned coated with red gravel. My right arm and shoulder were numb.
“Are you okay?” A young-ish woman in a VW van had pulled off on the shoulder behind me. I turned around, still a little dazed.
“Yeah.” (What seventeen year-old guy needs anyone’s help?)
“You don’t look so good. Want a lift home?”
I sheepishly wheeled my bike to her van. She helped me stow the bike and asked where I lived.
I directed her to my home, which was only a few minutes away. There, we lifted the bike out. The doorbell went unanswered, but since the garage door was open I figured mom was likely in the backyard with my little sister.
She was, talking with a neighbor over the fence. I’ll never forget my neighbor’s horrified expression when I appeared bloodied with twisted glasses and a broken bicycle.
“Oh my god!” My mother rushed to me.
The woman explained how she had come across me, and offered us a ride to the hospital.
I was fortunate. No broken noses, orbitals, or concussions. No dislocated shoulders or broken collarbones. Just some abrasions, a bloody nose, a black eye and an ugly gash across my cheek, closed with a row of stitches.
The remarkable woman stayed with us the entire time. She refused to divulge her name or where she worked, saying only that she was a mom and wanted to help. She was on her lunch hour, and joked that she would have a great excuse for being late.
I impulsively hugged her when we arrived home, as did my mother. We were deeply grateful. The woman said goodbye, climbed into her van and drove away.
A few days later, I was reading Dear Abby in the newspaper. Her column that day contained a definition of grace, something to the effect that it is a kindness offered with no expectation of repayment.
The world has changed a great deal since then. There are no accidents. Only liability and blame.
Today, my parents would sue the bike manufacturer. I’d be taken to the hospital in an ambulance summoned by a stranger with a cell phone. I never would have encountered this woman, nor been touched by her.
I think of her often, and hope the kindness she showed me has been repaid many time over. She is a role model and a hero, but doubt she has ever referred to herself as such. In a small but important way, she was a teacher that day.
Wherever and whoever you are, thank you. Thank you so very much.