“I found it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay. Small acts of kindness and love.”~The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
As I watched the scenario in front of me begin to unfold, I couldn’t help but wonder whether or not the fast-food restaurants of modern America have begun to intentionally design their parking lots to be as difficult as humanly possible to navigate. It seems that, as of late, there are always a multiplicity of routes that any famished driver can choose from to enter into the drive-through lane, creating a bottleneck of Lincoln Tunnel-esque proportions. As if the convergence of routes alone were not enough, not one of those routes allows the conscientious driver to avoid blocking parked cars from exiting their parking spaces while sitting in line, waiting to advance to order.
Kate and I had decided to go out to lunch, traveling to one of our favorite haunts. As we pulled into the parking lot, I opted for the route that took me to where the line seemed to be forming, instead of opting for the alternative option. As I sat in line waiting for the excitement of the slow advance toward the ordering station, I noticed a woman who had selected the alternative route, pulling up to the line at a point that intersected with the car in front of us.
There is an unwritten rule of courtesy at the fast-food drive through window…that being that no matter which route you choose, you allow the cars that have been waiting longer than you have been waiting to advance ahead of you before taking your spot in line. This unwritten rule exists, I believe, as certainly as the rising sun and the changing seasons.
Perhaps that is why I was so taken with immediate fury when this woman, without so much as a glance toward the driver in front of me, inched closer to the line, cutting off this poor man (and the rest of us) from being able to take our rightful place. I watched as the man in front of me, clearly frustrated, raised both of his hands in the universal “what on earth do you think that you’re doing?” gesture…just as I watched as this woman, both hands firmly on the steering wheel, stared straight ahead in the universal “I know that what I just did was terribly wrong but I am going to pretend that you don’t exist by not looking at you” gesture.
With nothing left to do but commiserate, we eventually found ourselves pulling up to the ordering station, ordering our food, and finding out how much we were to pay at the first window (incidentally, I’ve always wanted to ask in return how much it would cost if I paid at the second window, but my wife is convinced that I shouldn’t do so).
As the attendant at the aforementioned first window opened the sliding glass, I fumbled around for my wallet only to hear the attendant calmly tell me that the nice gentleman ahead of us had paid for our meal.
I glanced up just in time to see his car pull around the corner of the restaurant, driving away in a direction forever hidden from me, as I realized that it was unlikely that I would ever see that man again. In a moment of extreme frustration, this man who had himself been short-changed by the irresponsible behavior of a person that he would likely never encounter again had chosen to repay that behavior with a small act of kindness and love directed toward yet another person whom he would likely never encounter again.
Sometimes it feels as if we live in dark times. Atrocities abound on an ever maddeningly increasing scale, to the point that whatever the nature of the current tragedy, it seems to dwarf those that have preceded it. It seems almost as if there is some great evil game of one-upmanship that none of the rest of us are aware of. Perhaps it is true that only great power can hold such evil in check, though I suspect that if true, that Great Power chooses to work itself out daily through the small acts of kindness and love chosen by faithful people who refuse to let the darkness gain a foothold in their lives.
It is through those small acts of kindness and love…those acts that turn anger to kindness and despair to hope…that the real power of change begins to work itself out in the world.
The next time that you find yourself confronted with injustice, take just a moment in the midst of your frustration to visit with God about the difference between responding in love and responding in anger. If you do, then you might be surprised by how much your resulting change of attitude helps to keep the darkness at bay.
…and yes, we paid for the people behind us too.