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Acting with a magical property Acting with a magical property

Acting with a magical property

Wednesday, September 12, 2012 by The Press in Opinion

On a back-to-school shopping spree, my son and I were debating the merits of Nike Air Max sneakers as we headed toward the entrance of the mall. He was engrossed in wrapping up his rebuttal when he stepped in front of me to hold the door open. Then he waited, still holding the door for a woman and her children quite a way behind us, his summation interrupted. Pushing a stroller with an infant mewling discontentedly, the woman herded two other children through the open door. She was jolted to a stop when the stroller caught on the lip of the door frame. My son reached a hand out and tugged the stroller forward.

Headed in the opposite direction, an older couple stopped to look at what was playing out before them. The man said to his wife, "Millie, did you see what that boy just did?"

Hearing the exchange between the two my son asked, "Did I do something wrong?" Disconcerted by the absurdity of the question, it took me a moment to respond. "Of course not," I answered. "People are just surprised by common decency."

I didn't want to get on a soap box at that moment, so I stopped myself from speaking, but that didn't stop me from thinking.

Why is it that in this millennium grace is so disarming?

Webster's Dictionary defines grace as a disposition or an act of kindness, a favor rendered by one who need not do so. Grace is a word seldom used in conversation today. It harkens back to classical novels of the 1800s. People no longer expect others to have good etiquette, to act with unmerited kindness. The thing is, while "grace" is not a "buzz word" found in today's vocabulary, it should be.

I think about a story my grandfather told of when his first wife was dying and he had to travel from California, where he was stationed in the Army, to her bedside in West Virginia. His Army stipend was very little and so making the trip was all that he could afford. The bus he was on stopped at a roadside diner so the passengers could get some nourishment. He ordered a cup of hot water and asked for a few Saltine crackers. After crushing the crackers, he added some ketchup in an attempt to make soup. He tried not to gulp it down, even though the hunger bit at his insides.

The waitress came over to where he was sitting with a plate full of turkey with all the fixings. My grandfather quickly attempted to make it clear that he had not ordered the meal. The waitress agreed with him, and told him that the man who was just leaving with his wife and young child had ordered and paid for it as well.

An act of grace.

Admittedly, equally hard oftentimes is accepting unsolicited kindness. I recall driving to the shore after my prom. At each toll, we slowed our car and explained to the attendant that we would be paying for the car behind us. The attendant accepted the money. Our car crawled away from the booth as we strained our necks to watch the attendant wave the car behind us through the booth. Most times the driver of the car would come to a complete stop and wait for an explanation as to why he was not responsible for the requisite amount. Only after that would the driver hesitantly pull through.

As high schoolers we were enamored with doing something good and then watching how hard it was for someone to believe they were receiving a free pass. Even if the toll we had paid was less than a dollar, it seemed to confound the recipients.

Behaving in a graceful manner seems a bygone act. But it does not have to be. Grace can be brought back to this era, whether in a small act or a grand heroic one. It only requires a second thought. I am reminded of the words of Franklin D. Roosevelt; "Human kindness has never weakened the stamina or softened the fiber of a free people." So it is with those words in mind that an act of grace does not seem so daunting.

Acting with grace has a magical property. It simply confounds.

Not long ago, Matt Lauer of the Today Show ended a segment by saying, "It's nice when people go out of their way to make someone feel a little bit better. Have the grace to try it. Today.