I was seven years old when my family lost our home to a fire. It was around 11pm on an early February night in Nebraska, so you can imagine how bitterly cold it was. I vividly recall standing barefoot in a snowdrift that was at least six inches high at our designated emergency meeting place while waiting for my mother and sister to escape. (Everyone made it out.) When we made our way down the ½ mile gravel driveway to the main road, all we had left was what we were wearing. We lost everything.
My extended family was amazing during this whole stretch of time – giving the three of us a place to stay along with support for my single mom raising two children on a substitute teacher’s salary. I am very blessed to have a large and community-oriented family who stepped up in a time of need.
But, I also remember Mrs. Leverette, my 2nd grade teacher, who spearheaded larger efforts to help get us back on our feet. I remember how she wrapped a big cardboard box with paper and set it in the corner of the classroom. She encouraged my classmates to decorate it with words of encouragement and support. They also brought in clothes, toys, and other essentials for me and my sister. She also worked to get donations outside my tiny classroom, and was a true champion of kindness and generosity of spirit for a family that wasn’t hers. But, she sure treated us as if we were. Mrs. Leverette was the first to put a donationin the box, and gave me a brand new pink bathrobe, pink fuzzy slippers, and a tiny pink King James version of the New Testament. That Bible remains one of my most valued possessions. It is a symbol of one of the first lessons I ever learned about what showing up for community looks like, and I cherish it.
It is now nearly 40 years later, and that lesson still sticks with me. How do I show up for my community, no matter how I define that in the moment? How do I champion generosity? In an age where there is so much hate and hurt in the world, I believe acts of kindness and open-heartedness are critical. Acts that expect nothing in return other than the knowledge that my family of blood or spirit are sustained.
I don’t want to say that acts of kindness are the only way to solve society’s problems. I believe very strongly that focused anger at the multitude of injustices that are happening in our country and around the world is necessary, and energy that leads to action is absolutely crucial. But, I am also aware that when I feel hopeless and broken by the weight of the world, kindness and community are what stitch my heart back together. Generosity of spirit is stronger than hate. I fiercely believe that showing up, reaching out, and being present can only bring change.
And generosity of spirit can be as simple as creating a donation box for a seven year-old kid who escaped a house fire with nothing but her pajamas. A small act, but she’ll likely remember it for the rest of her life, and it will inspire her to extend kindness to her own community. Kindness is a river that carves and changes the landscape. It only grows larger and larger as it flows.
Where did you first learn the meaning of kindness? What were the first acts of generosity that you remember? How do those lessons continue to resonate?
This post was written by River Roberts