My Dad was sitting across the table from me with a cup of coffee, smiling. At 60 years old, his white hair and wrinkles still didn’t hide the spark of youth lingering behind his eyes. “You know, when I was a little kid, I made this wooden cross in Oxford with some church thing. I gave it to Mr. and Mrs. Smyth, and they hung it over their table there in the dining room.” He took a sip of coffee and expressed the accompanying ahh of satisfaction. “And you know, they never took it down. All these years later. I just went there the other year and they still had it hanging in the same place, and at that time I was in my fifties!”
It wasn’t the first time I’ve heard that story, or the second or the third, and I know my Dad well enough to know that when he repeats something, it means something. He isn’t a man of emotions or a man of expressive words, but I’ve learned to tune into his behaviors and little ticks over the years. We talked about how kind Mr. and Mrs. Smyth were during his childhood, how ornery Dad and their sons were together, and how they always treated him the same no matter what. Both of them have since passed, but whenever their name comes up, so does this story.
“I wonder what happened to that cross,” Dad mused. “I’m sure they just threw it away, it was just some piece of junk or something made by a kid. It wouldn’t mean anything to anybody else, right?”
When my Dad left, I thought about that cross. I had no idea if it still existed, no idea if the house was even still there. After all, the couple had been gone for well over a year and the chances that anyone even noticed it there was slim enough. Mr. and Mrs. Smyth had five children of their own, so surely the estate had been sorted and settled long ago. I pushed my idea to the side and moved on.
Then, out of the blue, one of the daughter-in-laws contacted me unrelated. We talked, and after we hung up I remembered about the little cross. Was this a sign I should pursue it? I wasn’t so sure, sometimes when I crave sugar my husband brings home donuts and I’ve learned that isn’t a sign. Ha ha! Days later, the idea still nagged at me so after discussing it with my Mom I sent a text. The daughter-in-law let me know right away that they were still sorting, and kindly promised to give a look. I wasn’t hopeful, and although I can’t speak for her, I don’t think she was either.
Weeks went by, and with no word I assumed we had hit a dead end. I was shocked then, when I received a picture of a wooden cross and a message asking if that was it. Of course I had no idea, having never seen it. It was a little rugged, and did appear to be handmade, so I asked if I could have it anyway. She agreed, so I made a little card for the family to sign, and picked it up the next morning. When I walked in the door to my parent’s home I was excited and confident, truly convinced that I was about to make a difference in this man’s life in a special way.
“That’s not it,” he said when I walked in and his eyes fell on the cross. But then, before I could react, he laughed, “I’m kidding, that’s it!!” He didn’t open the card but smiled, he wouldn’t meet my eyes, and before any emotion might possibly bubble up, he changed the subject. For the remainder of the visit he randomly sprinkled one-liners like flecks of pepper, “I need to find a place on the wall to hang that,” or “I’m going to hang that, yeah.” And I remembered, when he repeats something, it means something. The mission was successful. It meant something to him, and while I may never know or hear about it again, he now has a private way to cherish and remember the couple that had been kind to him so many years ago.
Kindness is a circle, as my Aunt often reminds me, and this is but one small example of human kindness coming full circle. From the provision of a church group hosting an event and project for a little boy, and from the little boy to a neighboring couple, and from the couple to a wall in their home treasuring the boy’s kindness, to a story told by the boy who is now a father to his daughter. And then, from a caring daughter to share the story with the family, and finally from the family the initial item of kindness, the cross, came back to the now grown little boy.
We don’t often get to see our kindness circles completed, but they are there. It’s in moments like this we can be certain that a kindness done, no matter how small is never wasted.