The Golden Chain of Kindness
Writer and philosopher Johann Wolfgang von Goethe said, “Kindness is the golden chain by which society is bound together.” But I was not thinking about the golden chain of kindness one day when a dilapidated automobile, possibly held together with glue and wire, parked in front of my house. During those years, we lived in a small town just across the street from the church I served, and travelers in need constantly found their way to our home.
I was growing weary of helping the numerous people who stopped by almost daily. I was frequently awakened in the middle of an otherwise good night’s sleep, to get out in the cold and help someone passing through. Once our property was vandalized; once I drove through a blizzard in order to get two people to safety; many times I felt taken for granted by penniless motorists or hitchhikers who did not thank me for help they received and complained that I didn’t do more. I hadn’t felt a part of a “golden chain of kindness” for awhile and, though I still offered assistance where I could, sometimes I inwardly wished they would just go away.
But on this day, a young man with a week-old beard climbed from the broken-down automobile. He had no money and no food. He asked if I could give him some work and I offered him gasoline and a meal. I told him that if he wanted to work, we’d be pleased if he’d cut the grass, but work wasn’t necessary.
Though sweaty and hungry, he worked hard. Because of the afternoon heat, I expected him to give up before the job was completed. But he persisted and, after a long while, he sat wearily down in the shade. I thanked him for his work and gave him the money he needed. Then I offered him a little extra money for a task particularly well done, but he refused. “No sank you,” he said in heavily accented speech. I insisted that he take the money but he stood up and once again said, “No sank you. I want to work. Joo keep the money.” I tried again and for a third time he protested, shaking his head as he walked away.
I never saw him again. I’m sure I never will. And interestingly, he probably thinks I helped him out that day. But that is not the way it was. I didn’t help him, he helped me. He helped me to believe in people again. He helped me to once again WANT to do something for those who are in need. I wish I could thank him for restoring some of my faith in the basic goodness of others and for giving me back a little of the optimism I had lost somewhere along the way. Because of him I once again felt part of a golden chain of kindness that binds us to one another.
I may have fed his body that day. But he fed my soul.