random acts of kindness

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A neighbor rented a small herd of goats. That’s pretty random, isn’t it?

They came and nibbled and nibbled, dutifully trimming down a blackberry thicket. A vegetable garden was planned but never planted. The clumpy ground was neglected. Soon plants emerged out of the bruised land: nettles, dandelions, wild carrots.

At a concert, or near the front of the movie theater, or at a highway rest stop, Lyla would leave them on the ground like giant lucky pennies. They were envelopes, rigid cardstock stuffed with mix CDs. All collaged with scraps from Lyla’s wanderings. A logo from a ferry schedule, breaching whales cut out from a brochure, a little smiling red fox.

Sometimes Lyla would smile to see a stranger glance down at the colorful square, pick it up and turn it over and over, and then read the words she always wrote on back of the envelope: “if this finds you, it is for you.”

Sometimes Lyla would have to leave before the envelope found somebody. She didn’t mind. One of those times she left an envelope wedged into a coffeeshop windowsill.

James was working in the coffeeshop when he saw it, eye caught on the little red fox pasted on above the word “kindness.” Hours went by. He kept glancing at the fox. People thinned out until James was the last one there and no, the barista didn’t know anything about the envelope in the window. So he unwedged it on his way out and read the words on the back.

In his station wagon James received a call from the Regional Blood Bank. Twice a week they called, requesting his blood like courteous vampires. He was a “universal donor,” but he hated needles. He ignored the calls.

He put on the mix CD from the envelope. Jerry Garcia sang out his speakers. Haven’t heard this in forever, James thought and had to smile.

“Are you kind?” Jerry sang.

When the song finished, James called the Regional Blood Bank and went in and saved three lives and got a free cookie. He didn’t know whose lives his blood would save.

One of those lives was the neighbor, the one who’d hired the goats.

He’d been too sick to plant the garden. One day he stood looking at the patch of weedy, goat-nibbled ground. A man with a green felt hat paused on the sidewalk.

“The term ‘weed,’” the man said, “does not mean ‘an unwanted plant.’”

“Then what is it?” said the neighbor.

“Simply the first plant to grow after the ground is cleared. The first resumption of life.” The green-hatted man bent and picked up a nettle by the top of its leaf.

He held it up. “Relieves allergies as a tea,” he said.

“What I don’t get,” the neighbor said, “is where the weeds come from.”

“Leave this ground alone, come back in 400 years, you’ll see big cedars, or hemlocks, or maples. Beautiful trees.” The green-hatted man looked up, like he could already see the beautiful trees.

Then he continued, “all the little seeds are there, hidden in the ground.”

The neighbor thought about those little seeds, scattered random, waiting, never guaranteed to grow.

He took a deep breath, alive, and thought about how lucky he’d been with that blood transfusion. He could never know, of course, to thank Lyla for cutting a little red fox from a cardboard coaster, or to thank the Grateful Dead for making Uncle John’s Band half a century ago.

He could never know the random acts of ‘kindness’ that became his “luck,” any more than he could see the buried little seeds that became the forest.

see how we’re celebrating random acts of kindness week

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