The Extraordinary Power of Kindness

Too often kindness is relegated to a random act performed only when we’re feeling good. But an even greater kindness (to ourselves and others) occurs when we reach out even when we aren’t feeling entirely whole. It’s not easy, and no one is perfect. But we’ve decided it’s not impossible to brighten the world one smile, one kind word, one blog post at a time. To that end, a few of us writers have established The Kindness Project, starting with a series of inspirational posts. We post the second Wednesday of every month.

A few years ago, I was caught in the maw of one of the darkest periods of my life. The remodeling company I’d founded and run for 8 years had collapsed. A worker had died on a job I was responsible for. My writing was going nowhere. I suffered through days so bleak that I couldn’t get out of bed. Think pills by the fistful; psychiatrists by the van-load.

On one of my better days, I ventured into the front yard to weed. We have more of a wildflower garden than a yard, but my wife and I stay so busy that it often looks a bit disreputable. One of my neighbors–I’ll call him Fred, since he doesn’t like his real name used–stopped by and asked if he could help. I said sure, and we spent more than two hours weeding the front yard (yes, it was that bad).

Fred walks with a cane, and his head is slightly misshapen. I knew he’d had some kind of accident about a year before, but I’d been too self-absorbed to learn the details. As we worked, he told me about it.

He’d been riding on our local bike trail, and a group of five young men accosted him. Four of them had bicycles, and they wanted one more. Fred’s. They hit him over the back of the head with a 2×4 and kicked him over twenty times. They broke dozens of bones, including his skull. They thought they’d killed him, so they dragged him into some nearby bushes and fled.

Another cyclist called 911, and a determined police officer stayed on the scene for hours before he found Fred. No trauma surgeon in Indianapolis was skilled enough to piece Fred’s brain back together, so a team from Chicago was videoconferenced in. He coded six times on the operating table, but he survived and ultimately recovered, sort of. When all the bills were in, Fred had racked up $800,000 in debt over a $10 garage-sale bike. He was bankrupt. To top it all off, Fred is gay. I won’t go into the discrimination he’s faced throughout his life, but whatever you can imagine, it was probably worse.

I ask you: Did anyone ever have a greater reason to hate the human race?

But here’s the amazing thing about Fred. He greets everyone with a cheerful hello and smile–from businessmen rushing around in suits to alcoholics begging on the street corner. After that day of weeding, we started getting together for breakfast now and then–in each restaurant we’ve walked to, Fred knows everyone–right down to the busboys–by name.

We didn’t just talk about what Fred calls his “accident” that day. I told him about my struggles, pitiful though they were by comparison. Fred said he’d hadn’t seen me around lately and had been worried. Which was one of the reasons he took some time to talk to me and help me weed that day. Not long afterward, I started working on the first draft of my debut novel, ASHFALL. And I enrolled in taekwondo–partly because I knew the protagonist of ASHFALL would need to know some kind of martial art, but mostly because Fred’s story had completely freaked me out.

None of us are undamaged–Fred perhaps least of all. He’ll probably never walk without a cane again. But I trace part of the turnaround in my own life to his simple actions–helping a neighbor weed, listening. And that’s the extraordinary power of kindness.

Be sure to check out all the inspirational posts for THE KINDNESS PROJECT. Want to join us by writing your own inspirational post on kindness? Sign up in the Mr. Linky widget below and post.

16 thoughts on “The Extraordinary Power of Kindness

  1. You are SO lucky and blessed to have someone like this in your life. (Obviously, you know that) I believe you are right when you say his actions were part of your life turning around. What a great person!

  2. Seems to me Fred may not have had any idea the kind of impact his simple act of kindness would have. I suppose none of us really know how we’ll affect others. But so often we do nothing, thinking we can’t affect change on any level, not even a personal one. And yet, despite all the trauma Fred’s dealt with, he stopped to help you weed and listen to your story. He was worried just because he hadn’t seen you around. That worry? That’s more than most would bother with. A simple thing, so very powerful. It’s inspirational, Mike.

  3. Mike, I’ve held this post open on my computer all day trying to figure out how to respond. I’ve still got nothing. I just wanted to thank you for sharing. Fred is my hero.

  4. Wow. What an amazing story. He sounds like a true salt of the earth kind of guy. I’m so glad you had him in your life when you needed him. Thank you for sharing this.

  5. Wow, he is an amazing man and you are lucky to know him!! I was reading this with tears streaming down my eyes. I think after what happened to him and for him to keep smiling is phenomenal!! Thank you so much for sharing.

  6. What a beautiful and tragic story. Fred sounds like a wonderful person, and you are too for allowing him to reach out to you and for listening. We never know the depth of the lives we touch until something tragic happens. Thank you so much for sharing this with us.

  7. This is simply one of the most inspirational posts I have ever read.

    Please tell Fred that I thank him for showing you what kindness is in the most simple yet purest of ways.
    Who knows what would have happened if he hadn’t taken a bit of his time to listen to you and help you weed.


    This idea is amazing!!!!!
    Thanks for not only being an amazing writer but also an amazing person.
    I’m proud of knowing you 🙂


  8. This is the first I’ve seen of when you post (2nd Wed. of every month) – I’ve just joined in and now I’ve got it scheduled.

    Later ~

  9. This made me cry! I’m in one of those hormonal swings where everything from pictures of cute kittens to moving blog posts has me tearing-up. Goodness. I’m trying to get work done here! Beautiful story.

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