I have been going to the same bagel/coffee shop every Sunday for years. One morning in the middle of a great dreary, drizzly weekend, I trudged in dripping wet with my newspaper carefully tucked under my overcoat and ordered my usual bagel with lox and cream cheese and an espresso. I was casually informed that my coffee had already been paid for. I looked around expecting to see some friend sitting somewhere but didn't, and when I asked, the young woman at the register just smiled and said someone paid for twenty coffees and you are number eight. I sat there for almost an hour, reading my paper and watching more surprised people come in to find their morning coffee pre-paid. There we all were, furtively at first and then with big funny smiles on our faces, looking at everyone else in the restaurant trying to figure out who had done this incredible thing, but mostly just enjoying the experience as a group. It was a beautiful blast of sunshine on an otherwise overcast winter day.
I was about to go into the hospital to be operated on for breast cancer when there was a knock on my door. It was a man from the utility company telling me that the next week they were going to tear up the street in front of my house to put in a new sewer. My face fell and I said, "This is terrible! I'll just be back from the hospital convalescing from cancer surgery."
The man turned and left. I later found out that they totally rearranged their schedule so that the work on my street wouldn't begin till several weeks later to give me some peace and quiet when I first got home! For years later, I would see that guy working on the sewers around town and we'd wave to one another.
I moved into a new house a few years back. It was the first time I had a yard of any size. There was a small lawn, about thirty rosebushes, six camellias, five rhododendrons, and numerous smaller plants which, at the time, I could not even name. I was a bit overwhelmed and not doing a very good job of maintenance-especially of cutting the grass.
After a few weeks, I noticed-vaguely-that something seemed different when I came home one evening. But I didn't pay too much attention. Then one day I came home to find freshly cut grass, precisely trimmed around the edges, all around the sidewalks and driveway. I realized that someone had been weeding and pruning almost every day while I was away at work. Finally I caught the culprit in the act-my 86-year-old neighbor, Mr. Okumoto. It's now been seven years and he's still doing it, not only my yard but the one behind his house and the one on the other side of his. He's now 93 and I don't know how long I'll be blessed with his diligent work. Maybe forever.
We had just searched a small village that had been suspected of harboring Viet Cong. We really tore the place up-it wasn't hard to do-but had found nothing. Just up the trail from the village we were ambushed. I got hit and don't remember anything more until I woke up with a very old Vietnamese woman leaning over me. Before I passed out again I remembered seeing her in the village we had just destroyed and I knew I was going to die. When I woke again, the hole in my left side had been cleaned and bandaged, and the woman was leaning over me again offering me a cup of warm tea. As I was drinking the tea and wondering why I was still alive, a helicopter landed nearby to take me back. The woman quietly got up and disappeared down the trail.
My wife was dying of cancer. There were lots of nonrandom kindnesses in our lives. People who knew us did many ordinary and extraordinary things. But what touched many of us in our community happened early in my wife's struggle. We decided to have a water filtration system installed in our house to take the impurities out of the water. The plumber we contacted installed the system and wouldn't accept any payment. We found out later his father had died of cancer.
From Random Acts of Kindness, by The Editors of Conari Press. © 1993 Conari Press. Excerpted by arrangement with Conari Press. $8.95. Available in local bookstores, or call 800-685-9595.