I was thinking about this in regard to my family growing up. My parents encouraged these behaviors in me. On one specific day every year I remember these lessons being taught very clearly – Halloween. This is the day when kids naturally are self-consumed. You look forward to this day all year: picking out and wearing your costume, waiting until school is finally done, going out in the neighborhood to trick-or-treat. The goal: getting as much
candy as you can. As a kid, that is the reality of Halloween – getting lots of candy. That is also the day my mom taught my brother and I two important lessons:
1. It’s not always about you.
2. Remember the people who are easily forgotten.
Each year my brother and I had two special stops to make while trick-or-treating: the homes of two elderly women. They each had a hard time moving around so didn’t answer the door for trick-or-treaters. But every year they looked for us to stop. We were instructed to go to a side door where each woman would greet us. One had special candy and the other gave us brand new dime store coloring books and crayons. The expectation was we were supposed to make small talk with each woman. They asked us what grade we were in and how we liked school. We did this begrudgingly because it took precious time from scouring the neighborhood for our loot. The
reality was it was maybe 30 seconds of conversation. Now I am older and I know how important those 30 seconds are to someone who does not get regular visitors, let alone children. Even though I didn't fully understand the implication of those visits then, I knew as a child they were important. I was somehow aware that something else was going on...not just trick-or-treating.
Both of these not-quite but almost housebound women are among the many kinds of people who are easily forgotten. They don’t cause a fuss. They don’t call attention to themselves and want to be a bother to others. They can get by generally on their own. But yet, they need human contact and compassion like the rest of us. Maybe even more. I learned that it is up to me (and all of us) to remember them. To take time to visit, write, or call. Now on the days when it is all about me, or at least all about my busy schedule, I know there are people who ache for someone to care. I remember the moments standing in a doorway dressed as a witch, telling an old woman about the books I was reading. I remember the power of a simple conversation.
I learned those lessons because my mom lived them and made sure my brother and I did too. It wasn't so much about the specific acts of kindness. My mom wanted us to know that the value was in the people and the relationships that received our kindness. It was our family culture to remember and care for people. We did it not with a lot of fanfare. We did it because it was – and is- who we are. And now I think about the culture in my own family and what my daughter has learned. She too, has learned those same lessons. When she was little she followed my lead. Now I am proud to see her finding her own way to care for others and share her compassionate heart with the world.