The Magic of Helping

“Do your little bit of good where you are: it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.” ~ Desmond Tutu

Photo by Leeloo Thefirst on Pexel.

A year ago about this time I attended a concert at the university where my oldest grandchild is a music performance major. Not too long before that I’d read an article about the health benefits of random acts of kindness. The big take away from it was this: Spreading kindness to others turns out not only to be beneficial to the receiver, but also to the giver. It’s just what we all need so much right now: A Win-Win Situation.

Studies have shown that when we are altruistic, putting the well being of others before our own and expecting nothing in return, the reward centers in our brain are stimulated, causing good chemicals to flood our system . . . and, Viola! We get a “Helpers’ High”! But, wait! There’s more! Engaging in these kinds of activities has also been shown to reduce the risk for cognitive impairment, helps us live longer lives, lower blood pressure and improve heart health, as well as lessen pain. Wow! It turns out that by giving of ourselves to others, we not only help to make the world a better, kinder place, but at the same time are giving a gift to ourselves. So, with this background information now firmly seeded in our brains, here is what I wrote in February 2022.

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“As I read the article it struck me that this kind of thing is what I have been consciously doing to help me deal with the grief around my husband’s death. Some days it seems like every breath I take is surrounded by sadness and missing him. Doing things for others has been a lifeline for me. The more I thought about it the more I realized that a few days ago I had experienced exactly what the author of the article was talking about.

On a recent Saturday I was having one of those bad/sad days. The landscape of life, as well as the weather, seemed bleak. A strong, cold north wind, coupled with the bone chilling temperature, made it feel like -10degrees. There was no sun, and even if there had been, the combination of temperature and wind chill would have negated any warmth that it could have contributed. In short, it was a dreary winter day, both in my mind and outside my door. A day that was not conducive to raising one’s spirits. The constant quietness that seems to pervade my house for the past 10 months only made me even more aware that I was, indeed, alone, and exacerbated the all too real knowledge that my husband was, gone forever. Even writing this now makes me emotionally exhausted.

With more than a little effort, I had gathered up the pieces of myself, stuck them haphazardly together, and managed to get out the door and drive the 35 miles to the concert. I didn’t want to take time to make supper at home, so I decided to grab something at a fast food place once I arrived at my destination. Eating has been a real challenge lately, as about 6 weeks ago I had some oral extensive oral surgery, which has made chewing a challenge for me. Luckily, Arby’s came to the rescue with mac and cheese, which I could eat (hooray!). So I ordered that and a small drink. The drive through line was long, and by the time I got to the takeout window I was running short on time, so even though when I was handed my bag of food I thought it seemed rather light for what I’d ordered, I didn’t take time to check. When I examined it a stop light or two later, I found not what I’d ordered, but a fish sandwich instead. And, while I do like fish sandwiches, it was not something I could manage to eat given my chewing challenge. Not having time to go back and straighten out the mix up, I decided, rather than let it go to waste, to find someone I could give it to. Had it not been so late in the day and so cold, there would have been any number of homeless people along my route to the concert who would have loved to have a nice, hot fish sandwich. But, alas, just when I needed someone to be standing on the corner, there was no one. Still pondering how to give the sandwich away, I parked my car in the ramp, which just happened to be attached to a small shopping mall. I had a light bulb moment then! I knew that the first business inside the door was an art supply store. Fortunately for me it was staffed by college students (who are notoriously hungry creatures!) It was 5:30 pm so I thought my chances of finding a worker in the store who might not have any plans for supper were pretty good. As it turned out, I was not disappointed. Walking into the store a young clerk appeared at the counter and asked how he could be of help. With the thought of “Well, here goes nothing” floating around in my head I launched into my sales pitch: “This is probably going to be the strangest request that you’ve had all day,” I began, “but just hear me out.” And I proceeded to tell an abbreviated version of how I happened to end up with the wrong order and no time to make it right. As I set the Arby’s bag on the counter, I ended my story by saying, “And so, since I don’t want a perfectly good sandwich to go to waste, is there anyone here who would like to have a nice, hot fish sandwich for supper?” Smiling at me, he took the bag and lifted the sandwich out, noting that it was, indeed, still warm. Smiling even broader now, he looked back at me and said, “I was just wondering what I was going to have for supper tonight, and now I know! Thanks!” With that he turned and walked away, bag in hand to enjoy the supper he never knew was coming.

And, just like that, the melancholy mood that had been following me like a gray cloud over my head all day, just waiting to rain on my parade, disappeared. Amazed and relieved, I walked out the door with a little bounce in my step as I crossed the street to the concert hall, feeling for all the world, warm and good inside, despite the bitter cold and biting wind.

As I made the journey home that night, I replayed the whole sandwich incident in my mind, feeling more than just a little proud that I had been able to take a potentially negative situation and turn it into one where I did something unexpected and nice for a total stranger. And, as an added bonus, in the process I had made myself feel good, too. In fact, I thought, it felt almost as good as a hug and a kiss from my husband . . . not quite, but it was still a pretty darned good feeling. And, who knows, according to the article I’d read, perhaps I’d also added a few years to my life, as well as what felt at that minute, like even a bit more life to my years.”

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And so, remembering the “mistake fish sandwich”, I have continued making a conscious effort to do those “little bits of good” that Desmond Tutu talks about, especially when I am feeling down. Because, in the end, it’s the little things that matter, no matter how small they may seem at the time.

The Little Things

It's the little things we do that make this world go 'round.
They're like the tender sprouts of flowers in the Spring.
They are the breeze that cools our face on a sunny summer's day.
They are the things that touch our hearts and make us sing.

For we can't walk this earth alone, thinking only of ourselves
as we live each day from birth until we die.
We make the world a better place when we share God's love and grace.
The little things can make a difference if you but try.

So, when your heart is feeling sad, and your life feels cold and bleak,
look beyond yourself and help another out.
Then your soul will feel a joy that will make your spirit soar,
because you'll learn what Love is truly all about.

Julieanne Gentz, January 2022

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