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Kindness is powerful
A dino-flower made me notice the campfires of gentle people
“Look, Grammy! A dino-flower!” My granddaughter Ellie exclaimed.
“What’s a dino-flower?” I said, humoring her. We were taking a walk in my hometown of Buffalo, where I, two siblings and Ellie’s family were staying in the city’s Allentown neighborhood.
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The Allentown section is known for its lovely 19th century homes, one of which we had rented for this trip. But while walking the streets with Ellie, I found a different reason to admire the surroundings beyond the beautiful architecture. The smallest patches of laws bordering the crooked sidewalks in front of many homes were packed in tiny spaces with flowers, some perennial, some not: snapdragons and marigolds, spirea, astilbe and black-eyed Susans. And, apparently, dino-flowers.
Finally, I saw what Ellie was pointing to: an 8-inch-tall plastic dinosaur was peeking out of the pachysandra in front of one of the homes. Not just any dinosaur. In fact, this was a Tyrannosaurus Rex looming out of the surrounding foliage, and quite an impressive one indeed.
Four-year-old Ellie bent down and opened the mouth of the T-Rex to reveal its many fangs. The toy responded to her touch with a mechanical roar. Ellie jumped, laughed, and clapped her hands, delighted.
I heard a chuckle behind me. The owner of the home, who said his name was David, was nodding and smiling as he watched Ellie. “Is she enjoying my dinosaurs?” He said. “I hide them there for children.”
“I walked right past it without noticing,” I said.
“Adults never notice,” David replied. “But children always find them.”
David has lived in the neighborhood for 38 years, he said. I had noticed him before, sitting on his porch, greeting passersby with a smile. His tiny patch of green near his porch sported a sign wishing passersby peace and love. Two statues of the Buddha gazed serenely nearby.
I didn’t know who was more delighted: David, watching Ellie, or Ellie, interacting with the dino-flower.
The next day, Ellie had to bring her parents to show them her discovery. Then she found another dinosaur peeking out of the leaves in this tiny, urban patch of green amidst the city streets. It delighted Ellie all over again.
There are not many acts more gracious than planning small surprises simply to make children happy. David’s gesture made me think of the power of random kindnesses in a world that sometimes seems to have elevated mindless cruelty as a national value.
For example, I had a friend who brought with her ice cream and a scoop whenever she went to visit her mother, who lived in a nursing home. There, she would make ice cream cones for residents, who rarely had the opportunity to enjoy the chilly treat the way God intended - in a sugar cone. It lifted their spirits, and it brought out good memories in residents for whom the golden years had become something grayer and sadder.
Another gesture has always stayed with me: When I was pregnant with my son Tim 30 years ago, my husband and I lived many miles from our nearest relative. We were in a rural area across the road from a dairy farm. As my due date neared during a particularly snowy December, we awoke every day to the sound of our farmer neighbor plowing out our driveway. Robby had three children, and wanted to be certain that we had an easy path to the hospital when I went into labor. So, unsolicited, he plowed away the snow until I finally went into labor with Tim - as it turns out, in January, at 1 a.m., on one of the coldest nights of the year. Thanks to Robby, the driveway was clear.
My latest inspiration of kindness comes from my 7-year-old nephew Aiden. He set up a lemonade stand outside his South Buffalo home one hot day to provide glasses of the cool beverage to passersby - for free. It was a humid day. He thought everyone could use a break.
“Even in a time of elephantine vanity and greed, one never has to look far to see the campfires of gentle people,” Garrison Keillor once wrote. God knows we witness the pitchfork parades, online and off, too often.
I prefer to think of ice cream cones, free lemonade and unrequested plowing services; these gestures give me hope - as do the dino-flowers, peering out from pachysandra to delight the smallest among us.