Kindness Wins

If you’re like me, you are perhaps tired. Tired of the virus. Tired of political stupidity. Tired of free money ruining the labor pool. Tired of pants that don’t fit like they used to. Tired of radio music that sounds more like a garbage disposal on fire. Tired of the downsizing of chocolate chip cookies. Tired of cat videos that you can’t stop watching.

I could go on. But I’m tired.

What I’m NOT tired of is the good that goes on in the world every day. Largely unnoticed. But which works wonders on the human soul. Which goes down better than homemade vanilla ice cream with chocolate syrup and crushed Oreos and fresh strawberries on top.

Take, for instance, the story of Deputy Haymond of the Utah Sheriff’s Department. He is working a long shift and pulls into line at the local fast food restaurant. He’s on the phone working through a case that has his antenna at full alert. A kid taps at his window. You can understand that his reaction was cautious. Too many bad things happen to men in blue (green in this case) through open windows.

He rolls the window down. The kid asks one simple question. “Would you mind if I paid for your meal?” I’m not sure that Officer Haymond really heard the kid. He heard the words, but he ignored the gesture. He told the kid that he was busy and that it wasn’t necessary. “Thanks anyway.” And he rolled up the window.

A little while later it hit him. He had dismissed a true offer of kindness. And he wept.

“I robbed another person of an act of kindness because I was too busy.” You can tell that his eyes are moist with regret. “I was just too wrapped up in my own world. I was the jerk, not him.”

You may have seen his video from inside his patrol car. He is in search of the young man so he can apologize for blowing him off. For being so self-centered that he denied a young man the pleasure of doing something nice for a total stranger.

It’s an odd twist on a common human experience. I can’t tell you how many times I have let opportunity get by me. Given the perfect occasion to do something kind-hearted for another person and because of my own preoccupation, I let it go.

But in this case, here is a man overcome with regret for being on the receiving end of such an act and feeling remorse for turning it down.

All any of us have to do is to open our eyes a little bit more. Open this thing we call a heart, if only with the slightest bit of hope and faith, and see what happens. Forget all the reasons to distrust and to act in our own best self-interest. For a heart closed to the possibility of goodness is perhaps the most miserable heart of all.

John Butler is a high school teacher at Hahnville High in Boutte, LA. He was walking the lobby outside the auditorium on graduation day just a couple weeks ago. He was there to cheer on his students and to help make sure that things ran smoothly. He was passing out programs to arriving families when a very distraught Daverius Peters walked out of the auditorium into the lobby.

“They won’t let me graduate.” Tears streaming down his face.

“What are you talking about? You’re one of our top students.” Butler knew this had to be some kind of mistake.

Daverius pointed to his feet. He was wearing a pair of black leather sneakers because “leather shoes” was part of the dress code. But because these were technically tennis shoes and they had white rubber soles, he was being told that he could not walk the stage to receive his diploma unless he changed his shoes.

“I’m in violation of the dress code for graduation. I don’t have time to do anything about it.”

Butler told the young man to take a seat. “I’ll be right back.” He disappeared through the doors and made his way down front to talk to Miss Code Enforcement. He got the same hardline messasge and left just as frustrated as Daverius.

As he walked back out to the lobby with his head down, he noticed that he had on leather dress shoes and an idea was born. “It was a no-brainer”, for this teacher.

He found Daverius sitting with his face propped in his hands. Elbows on his knees. He had done everything right for twelve years. All he wanted to do was to walk across that stage and take the diploma that he had worked so hard to earn.

“Take your shoes off.” Butler was having none of this. Daverius didn’t seem to understand. Butler slipped his own shoes off in front of the young man and as all teachers do, he gave further instructions. “Take your shoes off. You can wear mine.”

Butler was a size 11E. His student was a 9M. But on this day the student filled the teachers shoes just fine. He had to slide his feet across the stage to keep them from falling off his feet, but he made it. And with a smile beaming from ear to ear.

Miss Code Enforcement saw Butler right before the program began. She noticed he was in his sock-feet. “Where are your shoes?” He smiled, “Right where they need to be.”

It doesn’t take much to make a difference in another person’s life. Sometimes the least little act can change down to up, wrong to right, broken to repaired, and despair to hope.

And here’s the thing. Anybody can do it. No special skills required. All it takes is a willingness to be fully human. A reflection of the Good created in us from the beginning. A stiff spirit that refuses to believe the worst when the best in us makes so much more sense.

Officer Haymond says, if he finds the young man that tapped on his window, that he plans to buy his lunch and apologize. He’s a big burly guy with a red beard, a Glock on his hip and soft spot in his heart. I hope he gets his chance to return the kindness.

Devarius called John Butler his hero. “When I slipped on those shoes, I felt the joy.” He knew everything was going to be okay.

His teacher describes his work in uncommon terms. My place is “to be kind to others, be thoughtful, be empathetic, try to understand where other people are coming from. I just try my best to be the best human that I can possibly be for my kids. I try to lead by example every day.”

I’d say that Utah and Louisiana have a couple of men they can be proud of all day long.

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