Kindness abounds

Published 10:28 pm Friday, November 21, 2008

It’s become an unintentional tradition in this space, on the weekend before Thanksgiving, to express gratitude for simple, random acts of kindness that reaffirm my faith in humanity.

A year ago, I wrote about Wal-Mart greeter Zell Hudson, who found an insurance card that had fallen out of my wallet. He went to great lengths to track me down and return it. I subsequently struck up a friendship with Zell, who lives a life of constant gratitude. Appropriately, the vanity plate on his automobile reads “THANKS.”

I’m a rare Wal-Mart shopper, mostly because of my distaste for mass merchandisers generally, but nice things seem to happen to me when I go to the Franklin store.

After several straight mornings of ragging from my wife about my shaggy, unruly hair, I opted, during a doughnut run one morning last week, for a drop-in cut at the Wal-Mart barber shop. There’s something unseemly about getting your hair cut in the same place you buy your doughnuts, but I acquiesced.

(As an aside, it should be noted that my wife and I have very different philosophies about haircuts. My objective is quick and easy. Since my regular stylist was displaced by the last downtown flood a couple of years ago, I look for the “Drop-Ins Welcome” signs. Rhonda, on the other hand, is decidedly high-maintenance. We’ve been known to schedule visits to her family in middle Tennessee around the availability of a certain Nashville stylist.)

Back to my Wal-Mart visit: I stepped to the registration counter, where the woman informed me that she was the only stylist on duty and was about to start a “perm” on the customer in front of me. I suppose that was her way of saying, “It’ll be a while.”

I was about to leave, not at all agitated but too busy to wait, when the other customer interjected: “Go ahead and cut his hair. It won’t take long, and I’m not in a hurry.”

“Are you sure?” I asked, taken aback by the gesture.

I’ve had people sacrifice a minute or two of their time, such as in the grocery checkout line when I had a couple of items and they had a buggy full. But never had a total stranger sacrificed 10 or 15 minutes in a non-emergency just to be nice.

Much has been made of the demise of kindness, courtesy and good manners in America. Perhaps it’s true elsewhere, but I don’t see it in Western Tidewater.

After my wife’s recent surgery, we were overwhelmed with cards, phone calls, flowers and hot meals. Every trip to the mailbox, every knock on the door was a reminder of the fundamental decency of this community’s people and of the reason we call it home.