In this life– most of the time– acts of kindness go largely unnoticed. Yet still, they make such a big difference. Unquestionably, the whole world needs more of it these days, and lately there’s been a surge to stir the conscience toward intentional kindness.

For some, kindness is such an easy thing to practice, but for others, it’s a concerted, even difficult, effort. So in a well-meant attempt to cultivate kindness, practices like “paying it forward” have cropped up all over, and yet so often– truthfully– I wonder about the deep and lasting significance a cup of coffee makes to the individual who was already behind you in line, prepared to pay for his own Starbucks anyway. It’s a kind gesture for sure– but just how deeply and for how long does that kind of thing really make a difference?

Consequently, like you, I keep my eyes open for kindnesses that really do make our world a better place, and as you might expect, I usually find them right under my nose. My husband seems to have a sixth sense in knowing how to think ahead and find answers to the needs of others. Of course, you won’t hear any of these stories from him– but some of our best travel stories are just too good not to share, so here’s one of them:

Not long ago, Dan and I had flown out of Seattle en route to Sarasota, Florida with a layover in New York. By the time we boarded the plane in New York, it was getting late and everyone was tired. The late night flight was quiet, with passengers silently reading, working on laptops, or dozing. As the plane finally approached Florida close to midnight, the pilot announced over the intercom that fog was making a landing in Sarasota difficult, so he would be landing instead in Tampa, about an hour away. Hmmm…ending our long, tiresome trip an hour away from our destination, at midnight. Interesting.

The airport was closed when we arrived, so we sat on the tarmac for a long time, presumably waiting for clearance to enter. Finally, before disembarking, the pilot informed us all that there would be no compensation, no help in transportation, and no hotel accommodations. We were on our own. Tired, confused, and disgruntled, passengers grumbled as they left the plane. Several rushed to grab whatever cabs were available before someone else got to them, and others rushed to snatch up what was left at the last available rental car agency that was in the process of shutting down for the night. I couldn’t help noticing the number of elderly people in the crowd… this was Florida, after all.

Without saying a word to me, Dan also hurried to the only available rental car agency, which didn’t surprise me… but unbeknownst to me, Dan asked for the biggest vehicle available. When he was provided with a large van, he turned to the group of bewildered, stranded passengers and shouted, “Who still needs a ride?”

For the next little while, Dan squeezed luggage into the back of the van and herded at least a dozen people into the vehicle. After he’d made sure all remaining passengers had some way to get to their destinations, he hopped into the driver’s seat, turned around and said,” Okay everybody, my name is Dan…” and before he could get another word out, the whole group broke out in cheering and applause! He’d divided the cost, and prior to loading, passengers were more than agreeable to pay their small share, which was far more economical than taking a taxi or renting their own car, had any been available.

But the most amazing aspect of the story is this: the same group of travelers who had just flown silently from New York to Tampa without even having acknowledged the person in the seat beside them suddenly became animated and friendly amid the van full of happy chatter, everyone connecting amiably with the others in the van. Photos of grandkids were shared, stories went back and forth… and when we finally arrived in Sarasota, everybody was hugging goodbye and wishing each other well as they dispersed!

I will never forget this experience, and I’m quite sure not one of them has ever forgotten how adversity brought people together through the thoughtfulness of someone looking out for more than just himself.

A similar situation happened some time later when Dan and I were traveling with friends of ours on a cruise ship from Italy, through Spain, Portugal, Guernsey Island, Belgium, and Denmark. The ship had docked at the port a half hour from Brugge in Belgium, and as always, we disembarked as early as possible and headed to the waiting taxis. The four of us jumped into a mini-van where two other couples– a young Russian couple and a middle-aged Australian couple– were already seated.

The driver was pleasant, and when he dropped us off in Brugge, he pointed to a sign above him on the street and said he’d be there to pick us up at 3, to return us to the ship in good time before it sailed at 4 to our next destination.

All four couples split up and we enjoyed a perfect, full day in this absolutely gorgeous city. What a highlight it was for me! By late afternoon, we’d been on the canal, shopped at an outdoor craft market, had coffee on the town square, and I’d purchased my Belgium chocolate, so we headed to our designated taxi spot. One by one, the other couples arrived, and together we waited for the taxi. And waited. And waited, as the clock ticked on. “When it’s time to leave, the captain of this ship doesn’t even wait for his mother!” I remembered, as stress seeped into me.

After some time, it was obvious our taxi wasn’t going to come, and if we didn’t do something fast, we were going to miss our ship and have to find our own way to Denmark to catch up with our luggage. We decided to walk to the town square and find another taxi… only to find the square absolutely jammed with crowds, all of whom, it seemed, were looking for a taxi. Unsuccessfully, we tried to hail approaching taxis, only to be waved off every time, “Sorry! Taken!” At that point, I was fearing I wouldn’t see my grandkids again and my friend kept wondering out loud what we were going to have to do, considering it was clear we were going to miss our ship’s departure…

At that point, each couple had assumed it was an ‘every man for himself” situation, and all were stressed, trying to figure out what to do. In the chaos, Dan quietly slipped away to the information office he’d spotted (dah…), and told them his situation. “We’ll call a taxi,” they responded. “Stand by that pole and in ten minutes, he’ll be here for you.”

“The thing is,” Dan continued, “I’ll need either a mini-van, or two taxis.” “No problem…” was the response. As Dan made his way back to us through the crowd, the Russian and Australian couples couldn’t believe their ears, incredulous that he had taken care of them, strangers. Sure enough, after ten minutes on the dot, a mini-van arrived for us. ALL of us.

We made it back to the ship literally in the nick of time, and safely back in my room, I felt like I wanted to drop to my knees and sing, “My Jesus, I love Thee!” I had never felt such relief! And neither had the Russian and Australian couples who greeted us as though we were good friends every time we ran across each other on the ship!

Opportunities to help others like this are everywhere. Just don’t be taken aback if your acts of kindness are seemingly unnoticed, because they often are. Sometimes, though, they come back to you. This past spring, Dan was gifted with a week long stay at an Italian villa to thank him for some kindness he extended in the form of some very hard work– expecting nothing in return– to help some business friends whose house had burned. Can you imagine a world where people tried, like this, to outdo each other with kindness?

Sure, I like coffee and I’m all for paying it forward at coffee places. But at home and abroad, reaching beyond our comfort zones to truly help others who are in need really is what makes the WORLD a far better place!


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