Apr 10, 2001

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Pass It On
by Tammie Byram Fowles

"Practice Random Kindness and Senseless Acts of Beauty."
Anne Herbert

Yesterday was one of those days that we each experience from time to time, when one thing after another goes wrong. My VCR had eaten our only copy of a video starring my daughter as an infant, my dog had badly mangled a text book, my car battery died, my daughter missed the school bus, and every single traffic light that I approached turned red. Ten minutes before an important meeting I needed to attend was scheduled to begin, I sat at yet another traffic light. Feeling more than a little agitated, I glanced out my window. In the car beside me was a white haired woman who waved, and then gifted me with one of the most beautiful smiles I've ever seen. It was a smile that seemed to say, "I see you, I appreciate what I see, and I'm wishing you wonderful things." I smiled back at her, and almost immediately my irritation slipped away. This brief encounter triggered the memory of another winter day, one that took place close to two decades ago.

I was sitting in a crowded restaurant with a wise and caring professor who said something that caused the pain and confusion I'd been secretly struggling with to rush to the surface. Surrounded by strangers, to my absolute horror and humiliation, I burst into tears. When I gained a modicum of self-control, he gently urged me to talk to him, to share my burden. And so I did. I talked, and talked, and talked some more.

J. Isham wrote, "listening is an attitude of the heart, a genuine desire to be with another which both attracts and heals." And this is how he listened to me, with his heart. He was an extraordinarily busy man confronting numerous demands that day. But still he sat with me, and listened, focusing so intently that I felt completely understood and embraced by his caring and compassion. When we finally got ready to leave, I thanked him and asked, "How can I repay you?" He smiled gently, took me in his arms and replied, "Dearest lady, pass it on, just pass it on."

We've all been wounded by the thoughtlessness, impatience, and even cruelty of others, but more importantly, we've each been graced by countless acts of kindness as well.

This past spring, my father offered to help me build a trellis for my little garden. We went to the hardware store, purchased our materials, and discovered when we returned to my car that we couldn't possibly fit them all in my little Honda. As we futilely struggled to bend and twist and manipulate, a stranger approached, informed us that she'd noticed our dilemma, told us to load our hardware into the body of her pickup, and offered to take it all to where it needed to go. I thanked her, feeling more than a little incredulous, and politely declined her kind offer. She insisted. Eventually I found myself sitting beside her on my way home, with my purchases in the back of her old pickup, and my father trailing behind us, as stunned I suspect as I was.

Once we arrived at my house and had unloaded the truck, I offered to pay her. She refused and would not be dissuaded. I told her that she must be one of those angels I'd been hearing about. She laughed and replied, "Honey, we're all angels."

As I write, I can see the trellis Dad and I built together outside of my window. It's a slightly crooked and yet beloved symbol that has come to represent a father's love, and a stranger's kindness. And even more than that, one that silently speaks to me, whispering, "Pass it on, Pass it on, Pass it on...."

Tammie Byram Fowles