Small Acts Have a Big Impact

A small act of kindness

This afternoon, I passed by the house of a woman in our neighborhood that I have met only once, but think of every time I drive by. A few years ago she gifted me a small princess cup for my then-infant daughter – I had been perusing a garage sale in her driveway and was about to walk away when she gave me the cup, saying “Your little princess will need this someday.” She has probably forgotten this small act of kindness, and probably would not recognize me if we met on the street, but I remember action every time I pour my daughter a glass of milk or drive by her house. How lovely, that such a brief interaction can have such a lasting impact.

A couple of years ago, I was dropping off some clothes at the thrift store that our parish operates. I had all three children in the car with me, and didn’t want to drag them out of the car for the 30-second errand. I grabbed the bags of clothes and sprinted to the drop-off area and back to my car again. As I was about to get into my car, I saw the security guard who drives around the parish grounds and waved, smiling. To my surprise, he came over and scolded me – “Ma’am, you’re lucky that I was here. Someone could have come by and kidnapped your children.” Shocked, I said, “Excuse me, what did you say?” He repeated his words, and with a bright red face, I closed the car door and drove away. I could see him shaking his head at me in the rearview mirror. For days afterwards, I felt a knot in my stomach every time I thought of the incident. I felt ashamed, misunderstood, and embarrassed. Every time I see this security guard, the feelings return to me, even though he has quite obviously forgotten the entire incident. How interesting, that such a brief interaction could have such a lasting impact.

There are many resolutions that I could make for this new year of 2013. I need to be better about flossing my teeth. I should probably be more patient with my children, eat more vegetables, and do a better job of keeping family albums. My resolution this year, however, will be quite simple: To deal with people in a way that leaves them feeling encouraged and understood, and not ashamed and misunderstood. I never know how deeply my words and actions, no matter how insignificant, will touch the soul of another human being, and God forbid that I would ever say something that would lead a person down the path of shame, loneliness, or discouragement.

May God bless all of you today. Mary, Help of Christians, pray for us!

  • Kellie “Red”

    It is hard for me to believe that you would ever speak unkindly to anyone, or leave them feeling ashamed and misunderstood, most especially a stranger! But this sounds like a good new years resolution for me. I am the meanie, remember ;-)

    • Jaime

      lol. Agree with Kellie. Except the meanie part.

  • Juris Mater

    Kat, this is beautiful and inspiring. I think I’m going to copycat your resolution. Thank you friend!

  • maryalice

    This may sound silly, but I’d love some advice on how to carry this out. I totally agree that small words, gestures and tone can make a big difference. We have done the “warm fuzzy” jar with the children, and it is great to catch them doing the right thing, but I also find that very often I am having to sort of bark orders to be heard above the din and to get the job done. When you are saying it for the 8th time that day, it is hard to ask someone to pick up their socks without saying it in a way that is belittling or hurtful.

    • http://www.buildingcathedrals.com Katrina

      MA, I love that you connected this to our interactions with our children – this is an area that I struggle with, too. Especially on the days when we are all together all of the time, my tone can get snippy! I think that this is a totally normal part of family life. However, there is always the opportunity for me to apologize to my children for the way that I said something – I think that this is a good lesson in mercy and forgiveness for them.

  • Lucy

    Thank you for this encouragement and inspiration. What a beautiful resolution. It occurs to me that I sometimes let shyness or a fear of seeming awkward or silly get in the way of making simple gestures of kindness to people I don’t know well, as your neighbor did. It also occurs to me that when I have said things that have made someone else feel ashamed or misunderstood or belittled, if I’m honest with myself, I was probably feeling insecure or trying to build myself up in some way by trying to sound more knowledgeable or responsible or something. I could be wrong, but I imagine that, more than anything else, the security guard might have been trying to tell himself what a good security guard he was by pointing out this “danger” to you, but his words ended up hurting you. I guess what I’m thinking is that, for me at least, what keeps me from living into the resolution you describe is insecurity. The more I can move past my insecurity and remember my own value as a child of God, the more easily I can reach out with sensitivity and generosity to the people I encounter each day. Thank you for the encouragement to try to do this in the coming year.

  • FYMW

    I have been stewing over something today and was reminded of this post. It is helping me feel better, so thanks, Katrina! We took our little 6-month old to one of the many houses of worship near our home today. We had been wanting to attend Mass there, and we had just seen some of the brothers singing carols near our workplaces. They saw us with our baby and invited to Mass. In any case, we went today finally. It was a lovely intimate service. Our daughter didn’t fuss, although she was moved by the spirit to “talk” a little every so often. I took her outside of the doors during part of the Eucharistic Prayer when she was started talking, where I could still hear but hopefully she wasn’t as disruptive. The atmosphere is one of even more silence than the average parish, so we were acutely aware that even this small bit of talking might be disruptive. We enjoyed the service but thought perhaps not the best place for our family on a more regular basis given our daughter does not fully understand needing to be quiet or our shushing for the time being. After Mass, we had a few nice interactions with fellow attendees, but then one decided to come to us to tell us that the chapel was “not your living room” and that there was a Basilica across the street where children “yell and run around” (we have been there and have never witnessed this yelling and running around), so maybe we would be more welcome there. She then told us that she took a bus and the metro to get to the service so did not appreciate our presence. She said more but that is the gist. We were pretty stunned, my husband got out “have a nice afternoon” as she walked away from us, but it really ruined a bit of ours! And I can’t seem to just let it go out of my mind. I had already felt a bit badly about our daughter’s disrupting the service in even a minor way, but at the same time, I feel a little indignant that she implied we were letting our child, who cannot even crawl yet, run loose as if we were at home. Misunderstood and embarrassed too! In any case, your post really resonates with me but at the same time am reminded just to pray and try to move on. And also a reminder to watch my own words!!


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