Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Don't tell me one person can't change the world...

...especially on the anniversary of 9/11. That's when I think of the 4 "one persons" who irrevocably changed the world, for the worse, forever. It wasn't a military group or an entire country trying to show their perceived power over the United States, it was 4 individuals. 4 individuals who woke up that morning and made the choice to commit horrific acts of violence and terrorism. 4 "one persons" decisions, and now the entire world is different, from the unspeakable loss of family members and friends throughout the world, to me having to remember those 4 when I'm squeezing my shampoo into a 3 oz. bottle for traveling. Everything is different now, because of those individual people and the choices they made.

Do you realize that we have that same choice every day? Not to commit an act of terrorism or not, but we have to choose every day what we put out into the world around us. Is it going to be negativity, aggression, pain, and selfishness? Or is it going to be kindness, compassion, love, and acceptance? Each of us is "one person," who is lucky enough to get to make that choice every day, as opposed to the victims of other "one persons," who don't.

Interestingly, we may never know how our actions may change the world around us. Remmber that Ray Bradbury story about the butterfly on the path? We never know what act of kindness (or anger), or love (or hate) will actually change the course of things as we know them.

Enter my husband. Two days ago, on the 10th anniversary of 9/11, he was feeling that people needed to see some light on this dark day. He wondered what he could do to bring some brightness into other's lives, even for moment. So he drove over to our local IHOP, walked into the packed restaurant, went up to the cashier, and told her that he'd like to pay for everyone's breakfast who was sitting there right now. The cashier was incredulous, but he finally convinced her that this was what he wanted to do to help shed some light on people's lives today. So she rang up every ticket, and he left smiling, not waiting around to see the looks on people's faces when they were told the cost of their meals was taken care of.

He then drove over to Starbucks. He purchased a very hefty gift card, and when the cashier asked him if he needed a cover for it, he handed it back and said, "Nope, I'd like you to use this to pay for people's orders until it runs out." This cashier was likewise flabbergasted, and eventually agreed to his unusual request. He left that place smiling as well, thinking of all of the people who were going to have their spirits lifted on a day when they were most likely feeling pretty down.

Now, while this was a lovely gesture, did it change the world? Maybe. We know that he was able to touch the lives of at least 70 or 80 people that day. We will never know how that small act changed someone's attitude so that they became a "one person" who made a choice to do, or not do, something that would have an effect on the entire world. We will never know how many people these people told about the great surprise they got that day, and how many people told other people, one of whom might later be faced with a choice involving changing the world, and because of this, they will make the positive choice, rather than the negative one. We will never know how far reaching these small acts will become. But I believe that they did in fact change the world for the better, on a small scale, on a medium scale, and ultimately on a large scale.

My husband got the idea for this unique altruism from something that the kids and I have done for years. We will often anonymously pay for someone eating alone at a restaurant, usually a Friendly's or an IHOP or someplace like that. This practice began many years ago when the kids and I were having dinner at the local Friendly's and I noticed an older gentleman enter alone. It took forever for the hostess to get to him, and when she finally did, she sat him at a small table near us. He looked at the menu, and after a few minutes no one came to welcome him or take his drink order or anything. He kept waiting patiently, and as we were happily drawing on the children's menus with crayons and laughing amongst ourselves, I noticed that no one came to take this man's order. I don't know how much time went by, but it was much longer than it should have been, and when the waitperson finally made her way over to him she said, "Oh, I'm so sorry, I didn't see you there."

I didn't see you there. What could be worse for this gentleman, or for any of us? All of us want to be seen in our lives, no matter how old, young, tall, short, etc. We just want to be seen and our presence acknowledged. At that moment I wanted to do something that would show him that he was indeed seen, he was cared about, he mattered, so I surreptitiously consulted the waitperson about paying for his bill, under the strict condition that she not tell him who paid for it. She agreed, the gentleman ate his dinner, and when he was finished, I barely looked up to see her tell him the good news. (I really didn't want to look up because I didn't want to give ourselves away) I whispered to the kids to check it out (they knew what was going on) and all three of us watched as this man's entire demeanor changed. He stood up slowly, and we saw that he was now standing straighter than when he had first entered. He turned around and scanned the restaurant to discern whom he might have recognized or who his benefactor might be. We quickly resumed eating and playing around like nothing was out of the ordinary. We then saw the smile slowly spread across his face. It was a bright, happy, genuine smile, and he kept smiling as he made his way up to the front, continuing to look for any signs of who might have done this for him. We watched him go out the door, smiling to himself, and the three of us felt even happier than he looked as we finished up and paid our and his bills.

You know how much that experience cost me? $9.61. To change someone's life, even for a few minutes. Since that time, when we go to similar places, the kids will look for solo diners and ask me if we can take care of their meal. We don't always do it, just when it feels right. I can say though, every single time we do it the person exits the restaurant standing tall, looking proud, feeling happy, and ultimately changed for the better. We will never know the long-lasting effects of these tiny acts of compassion. But in some cases they may be huge.

Everyone has their own way of spreading joy and good feelings to those around them. It doesn't matter the way, it matters that we DO it. We take the time to notice who might need a lift and then we give it, knowing it's the right thing to do. And wow is it fun for us too!

On days like 9/11, we're reminded of the evil that people are capable of, as well as the tremendous goodness people are capable of. We're reminded of the choices that we make every day that affect the world around us. And we're reminded that, without a doubt, one person can make a difference. One person CAN change the world.

1 comment:

  1. What a moving and inspirational way to try to make a positive change in the lives of others. I think I may have to borrow that approach. Thank you.