Recently, my favorite TV show, Sunday Morning, featured a segment on a cleaning professional who spends his days off from work cleaning the tombstones of our veterans. He then researches their lives and posts their stories on his website. He loves bringing these veterans back to life. What a remarkable man!
I began to get tears in my eyes. This man spends his day off cleaning the tombstones of those he will never meet. He wants desperately to honor them. He is the most patriotic, remarkable man I’ve heard of in some time. My tears were tears of gratitude for people like him in our world.
The program inspired me to consider where I might better serve others. But what skills do I have that are of a lasting value? Immediately, writing comes to mind. I see it less as a contribution than a compulsion, a way to share my ideas and thinking, a way to heal the pain in my own life. Yes, I hope that what I write might also help others, but the dedication of this cemetary man dwarfs my own contributions.
When I look back on my own life, I see that small kindnesses made a big difference in my world. When I was a child in the early in the 1950’s, I spent a night with an African-American couple who fed me soup, bathed me, washed my hair and allowed me to sleep in their only bed. They lived down by the river, and I wandered onto their small property unable to speak, having been through one of many traumatic incidents. I never forgot the nourishment they gave me, and I still think of them when I prepare homemade soup for my family. They surely didn’t know this one gesture would impact my life and guide the way I would treat others.
I realize that I may not be able to make as large a contribution as the cemeterian; however, I can still make a big difference in small ways. There are many organizations that help others, and I can support them. It’s not as personal, but it is a way to contribute. When I smile at a stranger, send get-well or birthday cards, prepare a meal for people who cannot or listen to others’ problems, I am making a difference. I also keep my website and Facebook page positive and tweet only constructive ideas and good things about people. I am reminded of the old saying, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” These efforts may not be as grand a gesture as the Cemeterian, but they count.
Practiced daily, positive gestures add up to a big difference in my corner of the world. After all, that is the only corner I can affect. We never know when we express kindness that we might be making a lasting impression, as did the kind couple of my childhood–and the cemeterian.