A Random Act of Kindness – An Essay

by on March 3, 2011 · 12 comments

in Culture, Life Events

Editor: This post has received a lot of attention recently, so we decided to bring it back up.

By Shirley Sprinkles, Ph.D

She handed me a five dollar bill through the car window, then turned and walked away. I don’t know her name, nor where she was going—the encounter was so brief—but I know I will never forget that lady stranger who generously saved me from a lot of frustration and prevented me from walking a mile or more to my destination. The scene was a downtown public parking lot. My husband, Leo, and I were already a half hour late for a statewide conference on the status of African American families and children. (CSAAFC). We had taken the wrong fork in the expressway, and found ourselves deadlocked in traffic that was backed up for four miles due to a serious accident. I told Leo to go the other way, but he didn’t. . .

When we finally were able to exit, we tried to find parking in the designated free garages and lots near the hosting hotel. But, by now, they were all full. Not expecting this, neither of us had brought change; all we had was a twenty dollar bill. When we did find some space in a lot two blocks away from the conference, we were unable to pay the automated box for our slot; we needed five dollars. There was, handily, an ATM that charged $4.50 to get change for a twenty. But, there was no guarantee that there would be a five spot; we might have gotten just two tens for change. That wouldn’t have helped the situation. Besides, $4.50 just seemed like highway robbery. I wasn’t willing to pay it. We asked several people approaching the pay box if they could change a twenty. “No”, “No”, “No” were their answers. So, dejected, we walked back to our car, got inside, and started to back out. We were going to look for a spot on the street that would take coins. A quest that would surely have taken us a longer distance away.

Just then, one of the people we had spoken with tapped on the window on the passenger side. It was a short, medium-built Caucasian woman, who was all bundled up in jacket and scarf, wearing jeans and those flat fur-lined boots. Startled, I was reluctant, at first, to roll the window down. What could she possibly want? I lowered the window gingerly to keep the frigid air out, but cracked it just enough to hear what the woman had to say. Through the cracked window, she shoved a five dollar bill. “I don’t have change,” she said, “but here is an extra five dollar bill. Use it to pay for your parking spot.” I was floored! Was this woman, whom I’d never seen before, actually giving me this much money? Yes, that was exactly what she was doing! She wouldn’t take the check I offered her for the cash. She just walked away.

Since that day, I’ve been unable to get that scene out of my head. I tell the story everywhere I go. Though it is a simple tale, its significance is huge. Hers was a random act of kindness that touched my heart deeply. It caused me to ponder how many times I’ve passed up opportunities to help someone out. We were not poor, nor were we begging for a handout; just change for our twenty dollar bill. We certainly didn’t expect someone to freely fork over the cost of our parking slot. But, we were just as compromised in that moment as if we were penniless—we needed something that our money (or lack thereof) couldn’t buy.

The incident reminded me of a story my mother once told me of a stranger she met in a grocery store in Tucson, AZ. The two women struck up friendly conversation and chatted freely as they browsed through the aisles shopping for food. By the time they reached the check-out counter, they had shared quite a bit. While waiting to check out, Mom told the woman, who was also Caucasian, about sadness that she was experiencing in her life. The lady offered her comforting words that were laced with scriptures. Then, out of the blue, she handed my mother an envelope. Mom didn’t know what was in the envelope until she opened it at home. It contained ten twenty dollar bills. The woman was gone, and Mom had no way to thank her for her awesome kindness. As it turned out, it was the exact amount Mother needed to leave an abusive husband and move to California. She took that action as soon as she could. The very next week she packed her car, moved to California, and never looked back. From there the rest is history. Mother’s life took off to higher heights. She grew socially and emotionally, prospered, and helped many others during the rest of her life.

I believe that these “random acts” are really not so random. I believe they are well-placed reminders of our purpose—to befriend each other, and to share our blessings generously. I will not forget what happened to me in that parking lot. My plan is to keep some change in my possession so I can “give forward.” Someone I will meet by chance will need a helping hand. I want it to be mine.

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar barbara March 3, 2011 at 4:13 pm

I bet we could all share acts done for us or that we have done for others. I had a flat on the freeway. Baby in back seat wailing. Cars whizzing by. Finally someone stopped. A Mexican man. Very little English,me very little Spanish. He smiled at the baby, gave him a string of beads hanging from his mirror then set about fixing my tire. He was not here legally. He told me he stopped b/c sometime later someone might stop to help his wife or daughter if they were in trouble.

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avatar Shirley Robinson Sprinkles March 5, 2011 at 2:57 pm

Barbara,
What a great story of human kindness! How many times have I been helped in just such a situation by perfect strangers. Fortunately, I am fluent in Spanish, so that is always a bonus!

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avatar annagrace March 3, 2011 at 5:20 pm

A friend just told me about what happened when the mother of a mutual acquaintance slipped away from her apartment. She had Alzheimers, lived in Loma Portal and her son was panic stricken looking for her. He called the police and then jumped in his car to search for her.

A carload of tough “gang bangers” found her walking on the side of the road and recognized her because they hung out in the same apartment complex. They got her into the car and drove her back to the complex and waited until the son returned home. They were polite and concerned and promised that they would keep an eye out for her. And despite the fact that they looked scary as hell- one had a tattoo on his neck that said “don’t make me kill again-” they did indeed watch over this mother and son. Looks can be deceiving…

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avatar Shirley Robinson Sprinkles March 5, 2011 at 2:58 pm

True, that!

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avatar barbara March 3, 2011 at 5:40 pm

That’s a great story!

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avatar Ernie McCray March 3, 2011 at 6:33 pm

Well, homey, you sure have done your share of helping people out in a lifetime. Great story of kindness. The real moral of this story, however, is: Leo should have listened to you when you told him to go the other way. Don’t tell him I said that (smile).

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avatar Shirley Robinson Sprinkles March 5, 2011 at 2:59 pm

Oops! I forgot and told Leo what you said! His side is splitting with laughter!

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avatar R. Bullock March 4, 2011 at 12:41 pm

My dear friend. You have always shown a Random Act of Kindness to many. As the the saying goes “What goes around, comes around”. You are now receiving, and well deserved.

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avatar Shirley Robinson Sprinkles March 5, 2011 at 3:01 pm

Thank you, Rosie Posie, you’re a sweetheart of a friend. . .for how many years?
Sh-h-h! Don’t tell!

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avatar Beth herrman March 6, 2011 at 9:52 am

All of your wonderful stories brought tears to my eyes because there is nothing greater in this world then strangers helping strangers and wanting nothing in return. People often ask Why a loving God would allow random tragedy and heartache. I don’t know the answer to that, but without it there would be no reason for random kindness and senseless acts of love. Let us all give of the riches that don’t cost a thing but are so rare and precious in this life. I love you all for sharing your stories and reminding me that there are many good hearts in the world. thank you.

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avatar Shirley Robinson Sprinkles March 7, 2011 at 7:44 pm

Beth,
Your words are sweet and oh, so true. I want to be one who gives without remembering, and receives without forgetting.

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avatar Angela March 11, 2011 at 7:43 am

Thanks for sharing Shirley. I too think there are millions of such stories that people can share and that in your case it was reaping what you sow. My belief is that God is continually working through everyday people from before your Mom’s experience to beyond today. I’ve been blessed to be on both sides and believe that everything happens for a reason. So, don’t be too hard on Leo, after all if he hadn’t beeen ‘stubborn’ you would have missed the blessing.

By the way, Troy and I have been carrying money around in our cars for years, just for this purpose.

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