The following is a Chapel Talk I had intended to give this year.
Were any of you on the Circle when Acts_Of Kindness, that troubadour of good deeds was a sensation during one particularly grey and dreary February?
I loved Acts. For those of you (I suspect the majority) who have no idea what I’m talking about: Winter three years ago, a mysterious email account appeared on FirstClass and began poetically expound upon good deeds around the Circle. These mysterious emails would show up on student conferences once a day. Here’s an example:
a girl is helped in a flash by another
who should have then been singing
sing she does
a boy calls us to call our moms
and some of us do
a little baby stays mostly quiet in a chapel
but lets us know she’s there
in the midst of it all
At one point, a student caught Acts_Of Kindness on First Class Chat and when asked for motives, AOK responded: I have received more beautiful stories about random acts of kindness than everyone in the world.
Speculation ran rampant as to identity of the mysterious emailer until concerns that it was an undercover Al Qaida operative eventually won out and Mr. Gemmell stepped out from behind the curtain to reveal himself as this mysterious bard behind the keyboard.
This was just a few weeks or so in February three years ago, but I have thought about this over and over again since. Both because it was sad to see it go, as it was a little bit of sunshine during what was a difficult time for me, but also because is has me thinking about that idiom, Random Acts of Kindness.
It should be easy, being kind. After all, it’s what we all want others to be, right? Why then does is sometimes seem easier to be the opposite? Can we not be just kind all of the time? Must we rely on the Random Acts of Kindness to make our day?
Flash back to the summer of 1988. My family and I have moved to Massachusetts that previous December from Clifton Park, NY. That June day, my dad, and my younger brother headed into Boston for our first professional baseball game. For all I can remember, it might have been our first baseball game ever.
I did not know was that it was just two years after the Sox blew the World Series in epic fashion. I had no knowledge of Bill Buckner, Bucky “Bleeping” Dent, Pesky holding the ball, Ted Williams and the Teammates, Joe Cronin, Yaz, Rice and Fisk. I had never seen a baseball game before this, and I remember being awed by what is now known as “America’s favorite ballpark.” This was well before the circus of Yawkee Way, the hour-long pregame show and the hour-long post game show. This was back when half of the games were played on Channel 38, free TV. Back before real fans had cards proving their fandom and residence in the some made up nation.
I was struck by that building. That ballpark. I remember the brick, and that unmistakable green paint. Our seats were in the roof boxes on the first base line. To get there we had the option of climbing a whole bunch of stairs or taking the elevator. With a nine-year-old and a five-year-old in tow and the first pitch about to be thrown, my dad, perhaps wisely, chose the elevator.
At the elevator was a tall skinny guy with a slight afro. He wore a Red Sox shirt that made it apparent he worked for the team. On the ride up, he asked us if we had arrived early to watch batting practice and get some autographs. Having been raised by two Vermont Hicks (this is not quite as bad as being raised by a pair of wolves in the forest, but when put in situations like these involving civilization, you are equally unprepared), my brother and I replied no. Didn’t know that was a thing.
“Go buy a ball and meet me here after the game.” was his reply.
We found our seats and the beauty of that park struck me. In fact it still strikes me today as it did back then. The green, the grass, the rust colored damp dirt of the infield. I don’t remember much about the game. The Sox played the Mariners, winning 11-5. Oil Can Boyd was the starting pitcher, lasting four innings before the immortal Tom Bolton getting the win in relief. I know all this not because I remember it, but rather because I looked it up on baseball-reference.com
After the game, we met our new friend at the designated spot after the game, ball and ballpoint pen in tow. He brought the three of us down the elevator and out of the park onto Van Ness St. This was before the statue of the Teammates was there and was a fenced in area used for player parking. A crowd had already gathered held back by yellow tape, waiting to catch a glimpse or maybe an autograph from one of the Sox players.
We made it to the tape, and our new friend told my dad to wait there as he beckoned my brother and me to follow him under the tape. I remember a, “Who are those kids?” coming up from the crowd behind me. I must have been in total shock. There I was in the parking lot surrounded by the very baseball players I had just seen from our seats high above the playing field. Baseball players that I barely knew, yet somehow revered. And they began driving by me, stopping, rolling down their windows and signing my ball.
Roger Clemons, Dwight Evans, Spike Owens, Oil Can, Ellis Burks, Mike Greenwell, Wade Boggs (the only jerk of the group who barked “Hurry up kid. I gotta get out of here.” This is a prejudice I held as I watched him ride around Yankee Stadium in pinstripes on the back of a police horse after winning a world series with the dreaded Yankees. I did not see who was in his passenger seat.)
And they kept coming, Marty Barrett, Jody Reed and others.
I think about that day every now and then. I still have that ball which sits in my living room. Acts_Of Kindness got me thinking about that day and my friend at the elevator in Fenway Park.
Was that a random act of kindness? Did that employee see two young kids on their first trip to a ball park and decide to give them a magical moment that they would remember for the rest of their lives?
I have decided that I like to think that this was not a random act of kindness, but rather it was a deliberate act of kindness. That’s more inspiring isn’t it? To believe that guy woke up every single day of the baseball season with the intention of giving a kid a once in a lifetime experience for no other reason than he could.
Suppose he did this at every home game for two kids, just like my brother and me. The Sox play 81 home games. That’s 162 kids who had a moment at a ballpark that they will never have again. And what did it take? 15 minutes? 15 minutes of deliberate kindness 81 times a year. Here I am. 34 years old and that is still one of my most favorite childhood memories. Imagine having that impact on 162 other people. And that’s just in one year. Who knows how long he had worked at Fenway.
Doesn’t that make a better story? One guy, a simple job, creating lasting childhood memories for hundreds, maybe thousands of children through deliberate acts of kindness.
This is what I loved about Acts_Of Kindness. It took the random out of acts of kindness. It drew attention to the small acts, and it made, me at least, do one kind act each day during that month of February. Not only that, but also look out for kind acts as they happened. It seems to me that is a pretty good way to go through life, seeking out and performing deliberate acts of kindness of varying size and impact.
I think we could all stand to make a deliberate act of kindness a part of our day. In fact, why not more than one? There are 450 of us in this room right now. If each of us does one act of kindness today, that 450 positive actions. If we do two, that’s 900. Spread the love. Keep it going. Imagine the type of community we could become. To quote a Grateful Dead song, “Let it grow. Let it grow. Greatly yield.”
How hard is it to do two kind things in one day? Two kind things that could help someone’s day be a little bit brighter? I would suggest that it’s pretty easy, you just have to be deliberate about it.