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The smallest of gestures can remind us of our better nature

When heading off to work each morning, I am usually running a bit behind schedule. And I often come up behind a school bus making numerous stops along Sterling Creek Road south of Jacksonville.

But I don't clinch my teeth, pound on the steering wheel or honk rudely.

It's not because I am a particularly nice fellow brimming with peaceful understanding. Truth is, I can be as big a jerk as the next person.

Rather, it's because the driver of bus No. 50 is a decent, considerate humanoid who leaves kindness in his wake.

Not wanting to slow traffic along the road that twists and turns like an angry anaconda, he always pulls over at the next wide spot to let harried folks pass.

I toot twice on the horn to express my thanks; he answers with one honk, indicating he is happy to oblige.

That small gesture of kindness from a stranger sets the tone for my day. It's a daily reminder there are friendly folks out there. It makes me feel good about my fellow man — and woman. Yet an acquaintance insists our world is literally going to hell in a handbasket. I'm not sure of the physics of that, given the size of our planet compared to your average handbasket.

"How do you explain that shooting rampage in Arizona?" he asks. "Then you've got wars, famine and pestilence, all man-made. And what about those bat rastards fighting in Congress? There are a lot of bad actors out there, and they are multiplying."

Granted, he may be onto something with those "bat rastards." They do fight like, well, rats, although you may be able to document the parentage of at least some of the lawmakers.

But I couldn't disagree more with his conclusion that bad outweighs good, that decency and civility have gone the way of the dodo bird.

My objection to his view isn't because I would make Pollyanna look like a sourpuss. Believe me, I am aware of those whose words and actions present only a posterior view of the human race.

But I have empirical evidence to support my bipedal optimism.

Take the Medford taxi driver named Wayne who has been taking an elderly lady to a Medford hair salon for several years. He drops her off and picks her up each time, always assisting her in and out of the building.

The Tuesday before Christmas, he accompanied her into the salon, where he insisted on paying for her haircut and style.

There was no ulterior motive on his part. It was simply his way of thanking her for her friendship. It made her day.

Another random act of kindness occurred at that very same salon just last week when a doctor coming in for a haircut found a $20 bill near the door. He handed it — along with a smile — to the single mom who had lost it.

My glass-is-half-empty acquaintance would probably counter that doctors consider $20 bills no more than paper pennies, albeit he would be hard-pressed to explain the taxi driver's kind act as anything less than altruistic.

Nor could he shrug off the actions by Medford resident Gale Lee Mattern, 61, who found a bank bag while he was walking near Medford's Hawthorne Park just before Thanksgiving.

Inside the bag was more than $2,900 in cash and checks. Mattern promptly contacted a member of his church, who drove him to the Medford Police Department, where Mattern turned in the bag of money.

Noting that the checks were made out to Archie's Cleaners in Medford, police quickly notified the owner of the business, who had been frantically searching for the lost bank bag that afternoon. The much-relieved woman thanked Mattern effusively for his good deed.

They are countless other examples of local folks going out of their way to lend a helping hand to friends and strangers alike. Much of it is anonymous in the form of volunteerism or contributing to a charity.

They do it not for tax write-offs or a pat on the back. They do it out of the goodness of their hearts.

No, the milk of human kindness has neither stopped flowing nor has it soured. Our world is not going anywhere in a hand basket.

If you doubt it, just take a drive along Sterling Creek Road some early weekday morning.

But don't forget to honk twice to thank the bus driver.

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or e-mail him at pfattig@mailtribune.com.