October 12, 2001


We were headed towards the abandoned Navy Base the other night -- out for a quick five-miler before dinner -- when David abruptly pulled off to one side of the bike path and braked to a stop in front of me.

"Is something wrong?" I asked.

He shook his head and pointed to a spot on the trail just ahead of us. A large wooden road sign -- one of those sawhorse-shaped *Caution* signs, used by road crews -- had tipped over (or been knocked over by a passing car, maybe). It was now laying on the ground, blocking part of the bicycle path ahead of us. Rather than simply riding around it, as I'm sure 9 out of 10 people would have done, me included, David had decided to stop and move it off the path.

"Someone could run into it in the dark and get hurt," he explained, as he dragged the sign back to its original position next to the road.

I must have been giving him That Look again, without realizing it  ...  the look that says You are a much better human being than I am, and I totally do not deserve you  ...  because he shrugged and smiled and looked ever-so-slightly embarrassed for a moment.

"Hey," he said. "It doesn't take much to be better than you are."

It doesn't take much to be better than you are. Is that not the perfect credo for our times? Doesn't that just about sum it up?

It does for me.

So OK, he didn't rescue a kitten from a burning tree. He didn't invent an anthrax cure, or end the war, or solve the world's energy problems. (And yes, it's conceivable that I may be just the teeniest, tiniest bit biased where David is concerned: he smiles, and *I* believe that's the reason teeth were invented.) But every time I witness him demonstrating some small kindness toward another human being  ...  every time I see him brake for errant pedestrians, or empty the lint tray in the communal laundry room when he's finished with the dryer, or politely say "No thank you" to the dinnertime telemarketer  ...  it makes me want to be a better person.  And his idea that "It doesn't take much to be better than you are" strikes a chord in my heart. It reminds me that kindness requires far less *effort molecules* than cruelty. It reminds me that generosity of spirit doesn't cost anything.  It reminds me that even a tiny kindness can have enormous impact, somewhere down the karmic highway ... even something as simple and as seemingly insignificant as moving a road sign off a bicycle path so no one else runs into it in the dark.

This goes along with something I read, later that same eveningm which has been reverberating through my heart and my head, ever since. I don't often quote verbatim from other sources, so please indulge me while I share a fairly sizeable chunk of Dean Koontz' "From The Corner of His Eye":

... Not one day in anyone's life ... is an uneventful day, no day without profound meaning, no matter how dull and boring it might seem, no matter whether you are a seamstress or a queen, a shoeshine boy or a movie star, a renowned philosopher or a Down's-syndrome child. Because in every day of your life, there are opportunities to perform little kindnesses for others, both by conscious acts of will and unconscious example. Each smallest act of kindness -- even just words of hope when they are needed, the remembrance of a birthday, a compliment that engenders a smile -- reverberates across great distances and spans of time, affecting lives unknown to the one whose generous spirit was the source of this good echo, because kindness is passed on and grows each time it's passed, until a simple courtesy becomes an act of selfless courage years later and far away.

Likewise, each small meanness, each thoughtless expression of hatred, each envious and bitter act, regardless of how petty, can inspire others, and is therefore the seed that ultimately produces evil fruit, poisoning people whom you have never met and never will. All human lives are so profoundly and intricately entwined -- those dead, those living, those generations yet to come -- that the fate of all is the fate of each, and the hope of humanity rests in every heart and in every pair of hands.

Therefore, after every failure, we are obliged again to strive for success, and when faced with the end of one thing, we must build something new and better in the ashes, just as from pain and grief, we must weave hope, for each of us is a thread critical to the strength -- to the very survival -- of the human race."

~ Dean Koontz, "From The Corner of His Eye"

I don't know about you, but reading this kind of stuff just makes me want to run right out and spend the weekend smiling at strangers on the street, thanking crabby AC drivers as I depart the bus, cleaning the lint trap when I'm done with the dryer ...

... and reminding everybody I encounter that it doesn't take much to be better than you are.

Have a great weekend, everybody.

throw a rock