I was in the Seattle airport last month in a hurry to meet a friend. On my way to the south concourse where the TWA flight was to arrive, I was stopped at the top of an escalator. The reason I was stopped was that there was an elderly foreign woman trying to make her way up the "down" escalator. She was about half way up trying as hard as she could to make it to the top. (If you've ever tried to go up a "down" escalator, it's not very easy.)
The people in front of me who went down the escalator went right past the struggling lady. As I began down the escalator, I too had thoughts of going right on by. However, I just couldn't leave the woman struggling. So, I took her hand and tried to help her. I tried to get her to walk faster so we could have a chance to make it to the top. Even with my help, we were making little progress. Finally, I looked for another way. I could see a little distance away the "up" escalator working fine. I motioned and told the woman (who I don't believe spoke English) that we needed to go down and then she could go up another escalator. Out of breath, the woman agreed. She followed me down the escalator and then made her way to the escalator going up.
Erma Bombeck in an article in the Chicago Sun-Times some years ago shared this truth. She was having one of those days where she wanted to be alone. She finally had 30 beautiful minutes of silence before her plane would take off. Time to be alone with her own thoughts, to open a book and let her mind wander. She shared the following story:
"A voice next to me belonging to an elderly woman said, 'I'll bet it's cold in Chicago.'"
Stone-faced, Erma replied, "It's likely."
"I haven't been to Chicago in nearly three years," the lady persisted. "My son lives there."
"That's nice,"Erma said, eyes intent on her book.
"My husband's body is on this plane. We've been married for 53 years. I don't drive, you know, and when he died a nun drove me home from the hospital. We aren't even Catholic. The funeral director let me come to the airport with him."
"I don't think that I have ever detested myself more than I did at that moment. Another human being was screaming to be heard, and I was more interested in a novel than in the real-life drama at my side. She needed no advice, money, assistance, expertise - all she needed was someone to listen. She talked numbly and steadily until we boarded the plane then found her seat in another section. As I hung up my coat, I heard her plaintive voice say to her seat companion, 'I'll bet it's cold in Chicago.' I prayed, Please God, let her listen."
The thought was shared with me the other day how different life would be if more and more people shared unconditional acts of kindness to others. How often we miss opportunities right before us to extend God's love to one another and to make a difference in our world. May the Lord open our eyes, our hearts, our hands and our ears to the obvious and the subtle "real- life dramas" before us. I invite you to offer at least one act of unconditional kindness to another person today. Your kindness will make a difference. "Your own soul is nourished when you are kind; it is destroyed when you are cruel" -- (Proverbs 11:17).
Rev. Steve Olmstead is Pastor at Chapel By The Lake