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'Don't wait for other people to be friendly'

I have been thinking about how people pull up their legs to let you by when you walk down a crowded aisle, or how strangers say “bless you” when someone sneezes, a leftover from the bubonic plague. “Don’t die,” we are saying.

And sometimes when you spill lemons from your grocery bag, someone else will help you pick them up. Mostly we don’t want to harm each other. We want to be handed our cup of coffee hot and say “thank you” to the person handing it — to smile at them and for them to smile back. For the waitress to call us honey when she sets down a bowl of clam chowder and for the driver in the red pickup to let us pass.

We have so little of each other now, so far from tribe and fire. Only these brief moments of exchange. What if they are the true dwelling of the holy, these fleeting moments when we say, “Here, have my seat,” “Go ahead, you first,” “I like your hat.”

The above is excerpted from the work of the author Danusha Lameris. It was not until a Facebook friend (thank you, Marya!) posted these words that I had even heard of this writer. You may not be surprised when I tell you I have since researched Lameris and ordered her book of poetry titled “The Moons of August.” Two copies, actually.

The author’s writing prompts me to think more completely about the importance of “small kindness” in our lives. Those simple things we do, without words or with just a few words, to affirm someone or celebrate them. A “small kindness” is sometimes defined as “an unexpected act of charity or helpfulness.” That description seems wanting, don’t you think? If small acts of kindness were given their due, profiled more publicly and actively encouraged, do you think they could change the world?

I discovered a visual blog (https://positivepsychology.com/acts-of-kindness/) that captures acts of small kindnesses in photographs. There’s a compelling photo of a man stopped on a street in a country that may be India taking off his sandals to give them to a homeless girl, and another of a helmeted motorcyclist in what could be Great Britain. His bike is parked nearby while he assists an elderly woman across a busy intersection. There’s a well-captured moment in a grocery store, somewhere in the world, where a clerk kneels down to tie the shoelace of an aged shopper. My favorite might be the picture of a plastic bin full of tennis balls in a dog park, possibly here in the United States. There’s a sign above it saying, “In loving memory of Phoebe,” followed by words encouraging dog owners to take a ball and throw it enthusiastically for their own dogs — in recognition of their “loyalty and unconditional love.”

As the caption below one of those photos reads, “Don’t wait for other people to be friendly, show them how.” Go ahead, you first, I’m right behind you.

And by the way, I like your hat.

Sharon Johnson is a retired health educator. Reacher her at sharon@rbtrv.org.