In all the places our family lived before moving to Vermont, we felt that we were part of wonderful, caring communities. There are kind people everywhere, people who take care of each other. But I've been especially overwhelmed by the kindness we've experienced since coming to Vermont. This past year in particular, throughout my pregnancy and the birth of our fourth child, I never felt alone. Even before Abigail was born, we were the recipients of countless meals, childcare, and transportation for our children. Our list of "People to Take the Kids if Baby Arrives Before Grandparents" ran into the double digits.
I look around our town and I see little acts of goodness everywhere: people volunteering to serve meals to the hungry, moms watching other moms' children so that they can go to doctor's appointments, friends generously sharing the bounty of their fields and kitchens. It warms my heart.
It also used to make me feel totally inadequate.
Whenever somebody did something kind for our family, I'd gratefully accept the favor and then realize: SHE has four children of her own at home! or HE works long, hard hours at his job! These people were caring so well for our family, but it almost seemed like WE should be caring for THEM. They had at least as much going on in their lives as us, yet they were giving to us on top of it all. How did they do it??? And what was wrong with me that I DIDN'T do more???
It took me a while to realize that these good Samaritans weren't doing random acts of kindness because they were smarter or more organized or more compassionate or slept less or worked harder or anything else. Okay, maybe some of them were superior to me in those areas, but taken as a group they shared one common characteristic: They were doing kind things because they DID KIND THINGS.
I don't know about you, but it's easy for me to have kind IDEAS: I should send her a note, I should give him a call, I should cook them a meal, I should pay them a visit -- and then come up with a million excuses for why I shouldn't actually DO those things. For instance: Maybe I'll catch them at a bad time, maybe I'll say the wrong things, they're much better cooks than I am -- why would they want a meal from ME?, I have four young children, etc etc. etc.
The difference between me and the generous people I envied was that, when they had a kind idea, they JUST DID IT. Maybe they skipped the question/excuse stage all together, or maybe they had the same concerns I did but moved past them; either way, they put aside the worry of whether it was the right thing at the right time in the right way, and just did it.
Whenever I've been on the receiving end of kindness, not once have I thought, That wasn't a great meal; I wish they hadn't brought it, or, If only they hadn't offered to babysit my children, or, It was so inappropriate for them to call and check on me! Not once. Because even if I didn't love the meal, or I didn't need a babysitter, or they said awkward things, I saw through the action to the love and concern behind it.
So this year, I've made my motto: JUST DO IT. When I wonder how a friend's doing, I try to send them an email or give them a call immediately, without worrying what they'll think. When I think somebody might need a night off from cooking, I try to take them a meal without worrying that it's not gourmet. In short, whenever I wonder whether I should do something kind, I try to skip the second-guessing and just do it. I could certainly do a lot more, but I'm learning that the difference between action and inaction is: just doing.
I'm writing this as we head into the winter holiday season. For many people, this is an extremely difficult time of year; a time when celebrations that call for gifts and feasting pose a challenge to those in need, a time when dark, cold days can heighten depression or loneliness. It's also a time when it's harder for those of us who are in a position to be generous to motivate ourselves to just do it; we're busy, it's cold, the roads are slick, yada yada yada. (During our first winter in Vermont, I was convinced that our community went into winter hibernation; social events stopped immediately after Christmas, and there were many friends whom we never saw until the spring thaw).
So, this seems like the perfect time to encourage myself and anybody else who's listening: All year round, but especially during this cold and busy holiday season, if you think of a good deed -- anything you preface with, It would be nice to.... -- don't worry about whether it's the right thing or the right time. JUST DO IT. Let’s keep this community caring.
Faith Gong has worked as an elementary school teacher, a freelance photographer, and a nonprofit manager. Since moving to Addison County in 2011, her work has involved caring for a house in the woods, four young daughters, one anxiety-prone puppy — and writing for her blog, The Pickle Patch.