When I was growing up my father told me many memorable stories, including one that I remember about the time a famous celebrity did him an unexpected favor. As the story goes, my father, having just returned from his service in World War II, was in line at a nightclub with a friend in New York City hoping they could get in to see an up and coming singing star. When they finally got to the front of the line, they discovered there was an expensive cover charge, steeper than they could afford. Feeling somewhat embarrassed, they explained to the bouncer that they had just returned from the war and didn’t have enough money to get in. The bouncer listened politely, but responded that he couldn’t make exceptions for anyone. It turned out though, that the singer they had come to hear was nearby and overheard the conversation. Surprising everyone, he stepped in and said, “These two gentlemen are my guests tonight, please let them in.” Before he went on stage, that soon to be famous singer escorted them to a table in the front of the club and bought them both a couple of drinks. That singer was the young Frank Sinatra, and my father clearly never forgot the favor that he did for him and his friend that night.
That story came back to me this week as I read stories about the passing of Arnold Palmer. Almost all of the stories I read began with statements similar to, “I was a young, unknown reporter…,” or “I was just an everyday, average fan…,” or “I was an amateur golfer, trying to catch a break….,” and ended with “and Mr. Palmer made time for me, gave me his full attention and talked with me like I was the most important person in the world.” In other words, what people were remembering most about Arnold Palmer were his everyday kindnesses, and not so much his accomplishments on the golf course. If you want to know more about “Arnie’s Army of kindness” learn about the wonderful work of his foundation at www.ArniesArmy.org.
It has been said that you can tell a great deal about a person’s character by the way they treat those who likely will be in a position to offer them something in return. The Bible says something similar when it says that a person’s character is revealed in how they treat “the least of these” among us. Treating others with kindness because we hope to get something in return is a function of our ego. Treating others with kindness as a reflection of our character, and because it is simply the right thing to do, is an expression of our soul.
Our character is best reflected not often in grand, public gestures and achievements, but in the everyday choices we make to simply do the right thing. It is reflected in being there for a friend who is battling depression, cancer, grief, or some other difficulty. It is reflected by a parent who is getting up for the fourth time in the middle of the night to comfort a crying child. It is reflected in the way a family member cares for an aging spouse/parent/sibling/friend. It is reflected in the person who volunteers each week at the after school tutoring program or the weekly meal program.
Just yesterday, while in the midst of working on this column, I encountered an older man in the hallway outside my office who appeared to be lost and confused. It turned out that he was trying to find his way to a doctor’s office. I took the time to escort him to the office, learned his name as we were walking together, and went into the waiting room to introduce him to the person at the front desk. His deep expression of gratitude, for my five minutes of kindness, “You made my day, Sir!” turned out to be the highlight of my day. I am embarrassed to say, though, that if I had not been working on this column, I may have simply been too “busy” to even notice this man, let alone stop and ask him if he needed help. I can’t help but wonder how many times I have rushed by someone in need of assistance, not even noticing their presence.
You and I may not be famous celebrities like Frank Sinatra and Arnold Palmer, and yet, famous or not, we all have countless opportunities to be kind to others.
Whose day will you make today by taking time to notice them and giving them your undivided time and attention?