When my friend Maia Toll asked me to join her JOY WAVE to ring in the New Year, my first thought was, “Of course, what better way to start 2013 than surfing in on a wave of happiness?”
Then, the Newtown tragedy happened, and it seemed insensitive and wrong to mention joy in the wake of such heartbreak. How could we turn out attention to joy when so many people in our country were gripped by grief and despair?
Reading about the victims’ families helped me realize that now, more than ever, is the time to remember what’s good in this world.
When I think about Joy, I think about the unexpected kindness of strangers:
A few years ago, I traveled alone to Guanajuato, a small town scooped out of the mountains of Mexico. I signed up for a week long language school during the week of Thanksgiving in the United States. My kids were spending time with their dad, and my husband was deployed to the Middle East. I figured it was a perfect time to try something adventurous and bold.
I managed the whole trip down to South America without incident until the taxi dropped me off at the address of the family I was supposed to stay with.
I knocked on the door, no answer. I waited, knocked again. Nothing. I stood on their porch for at least an hour.
Then, it dawned on me: I am an American woman alone in Mexico. I have no idea where to go, what to do and classes don’t start until the morning.
So what did I do? I stood in front of their house with my over-sized suitcase and cried. Definitely not one of my finer moments.
It seems silly in retrospect, but at the time, I felt so alone and afraid. I didn’t know what else to do.
I had been standing there for quite a while when a stranger who spoke not a word of English stopped to try to help me. Somehow, I communicated that I couldn’t find the family I was supposed to stay with. He made a couple calls and finally found someone who could speak English well enough to understand me.
It turned out that the Salazar family had forgotten about my arrival that day. I was at the right address, but no one was there to greet me. My new friend was able to locate them, and he waited with me until they arrived.
That day, a stranger who couldn’t understand a word I said extended kindness to me, and I’ve never forgotten it. He probably has no idea the impression his selfless actions made on me that day.
My husband helped me repay my debt of kindness last summer during our trip to Washington, D.C.
I wanted to see the Friendship Archway, so we wandered to Chinatown. On the way, we passed dozens of hurried people, but our pace was leisurely, as we were enjoying the thrill of exploring a new city.
I noticed a woman standing alone at the street corner. She was sobbing and obviously in distress. Her appearance was disheveled, and people avoided making eye contact as they passed her.
“Won’t somebody please stop and help me,” she cried out.
As we approached, I noticed a cane extended in front of her and haziness in her eyes.
She was blind.
“Ma’am, can I help you?” My sweet husband approached her slowly, not wanting to scare her even more.
I realized she might be intimated by a strange man, so I added, “It’s OK; my husband and I are going to help you.”
It turned out she had gotten disoriented and lost on her way to meet her friend. The worst part was that she was unable to find a single person on that busy street to stop and help her.
My husband offered his arm and she slipped her hand around his elbow. Between sobs she told us her story and where she was trying to go. We realized she was no more than a block away from her destination, so we walked up the street, crossed over and delivered her safely to her friend.
That day, we were the ones offering help to someone in need. I am certain our small act made a big difference to her.
Random Acts of Kindness Change the World
I’ve been on both sides of the kindness equation, and I can tell you that it doesn’t matter if you are the giver or receiver: random acts of kindness change lives.
When you selflessly extend your hand to a soul in need, you sow a seed.
Joy grows from the unsung, simple actions of everyday people honoring and taking care of one another.
And that is what brings me joy.
Want to join the Joy Wave? Share this blog post on Facebook or Twitter. Be sure you tell your Joy Story, too.