I spend a lot of time in this blog railing against our country's failure to do right by its children. I was going to lighten up for the holidays and simply write a list of small acts of kindness that anyone can do. After all, what benefits our children more than a caring community?
Of course, everything changed with the Sandy Hook shootings. It seemed ridiculously trivial now to write about offering your mail carrier a hot drink or putting a quarter in a parking meter for a stranger.
Nothing anyone can say or do is enough. The undertow of grief and confusion is particularly strong where I live, in Connecticut, where 20 children and seven adults lost their lives in a fury of violence that we struggle to understand, even as we know it is beyond understanding.
There is so much work to be done: sane gun laws that will protect our children from instruments of war and the construction of something we have never had -- an adequate mental health system.
As I wrestled with these dark thoughts, it occurred to me that now might be exactly the right time to suggest some small acts of kindness. Winston Churchill famously said, “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” That's exactly what we should do, keep going in the direction of kindness, of caring for each other -- especially those who cannot care for themselves. It's important to reach for some achievable small victories. These are not substitutes for the big battles we need to fight, but they may give us some extra strength to keep going.
So, here are some humble suggestions. I hope you’ll share your own ideas, too.
- Don’t avert your eyes from a homeless person. Even if you don’t want to give money, you can say hello. That’s what human beings do when they encounter each other.
- Hold the door for a mom with a stroller, an elderly person, or just anyone.
- Throw a shower for a mom-to-be who’s having trouble making ends meet. You might find such a person through your faith community. Or you can throw a shower to benefit a diaper bank.
- Approach your least favorite co-worker and ask how the family is doing. It will take you three minutes and might warm up the office considerably.
- Save small things, like hotel shampoos and sample toothpaste from your dentist, then donate them to a school or food bank. No government programs cover hygiene needs and people suffer terribly as a result.
- When you’re shoveling your own driveway think about the family around the corner with the sick kid or the man down the street with the bad back. Shovel them out as well. It's good for your heart in a couple of ways.
- Buy socks. Wearing wet, dirty socks is a frequent cause of dangerous foot infections for homeless people. Pick up a package of tube socks. I keep some in my trunk. Your local homeless shelter would be delighted with a donation, too.
- Read to a child. Yours or someone else’s. Many schools -- particularly understaffed urban ones -- love to have volunteers come in and read.
- Buy doubles on school supplies. Your child’s teacher likely knows a kid whose family is struggling.
- Give up the daily latte or the afternoon candy bar. Take one week’s savings from something you're better off without anyway and write a check to a worthwhile cause.
- Say thank you to the people who get ignored -- the barista, the toll collector, the woman who empties the waste cans in your office.
- Give a tissue. Teachers frequently have to buy their own for the class. It’s tough during cold season. Show up with a case of tissues from the warehouse club and be a hero.