Yesterday, I was driving down one of the main roads in my town, and I noticed that the car in front of me looked . . . different. As I moved closer and squinted my eyes, I saw that there was a hand-written message scrawled with white marker across the back windshield. It was a pretty angry message. And I didn’t need to stop the driver and talk in person to realize that they were greatly displeased with certain issues in our country and in the world. Just by reading that windshield, I felt as if the driver were shouting–at me, at others–and shaking a fist at the sky. So much anger. Kindness, grace, peace, and love were certainly not there.
And then, just a few days ago, I experienced some church-folk who seemed to forget Christ’s call to love and serve others. Kindness, grace, peace, and love were severely lacking in their words and behaviors. So much anger there, too.
I could easily follow these two recent experiences to a place of despair at the “state of our world today,” but–surprisingly–another kind of experience came to my mind this morning. And it’s keeping me going. It’s a story that happened this one time in Ireland. . . .
A few years ago, my husband and I were traveling in Ireland with another couple of friends who were celebrating their wedding anniversary, like we were. We had started our adventure in Dublin, in the east, traveled across the country to Galway in the west, and were making our way back around to Limerick near the center of Ireland. We stopped for lunch at a pub as we visited Limerick that day. And as we listened to the fiddles playing and the dancers tapping, we found a high-top table outdoors near the river. We and our friends were sitting there, chatting and laughing, recalling fun events from earlier in our vacation, when a most interesting individual appeared near our table. He had long, rather dirty-looking hair. A scruffy beard. An old Led Zeppelin t-shirt with stains on it. An unusual twitch in his eyes. A mysterious sniffle. But he was just as friendly as he could be! He started conversing with us, warmly and casually as if we were old buddies of his. He asked us how we were enjoying Ireland, about the sights we’d already seen. Made recommendations. Bantered. We smiled and engaged his conversation. But I have to admit those smiles were tense. And as he wandered away after a little while, you could feel the tension release from our group of friends. We laughed nervously and admitted that we all had had an eye on our friends’ expensive digital camera they had placed on the table top. Because our mysterious visitor just looked like the kind of person who might steal expensive items from unsuspecting tourists.
We returned to our lunches and our previous conversation, when—all of a sudden—our friend appeared again! He chatted some more, and then said the most outlandish thing. “I’d like to give you a blessing. A blessing for your travels. A blessing in my language.” And he fumbled about in his pants pocket looking for something to write on and something to write with. He pulled out an old, dirty envelope with frayed edges. “Pension envelope,” he said sheepishly. And he found a pencil. Then he wandered away to an empty table to write. Meanwhile, I was skeptical. “A blessing in your language!” I thought. “Even with your Irish accent, you’re speaking English just like we are.” I might have gripped my purse straps a little tighter as I watched him.
When he returned to our table, he proudly put the frayed piece of paper down in front of us. He had sketched a shamrock and these words in Irish Gaelic: “Go n-éirí an bóthar leat.” “May the road rise to meet you,” he declared warmly. And all of a sudden I felt so stupid and so ashamed. “May the road rise to meet you.” The traditional Irish blessing that I know from so many choral anthems I’d performed in the past. And, of course, Irish Gaelic was his language. How foolish, how arrogant of me to forget that more than English was spoken here.
Once he shared his blessing with us, he wandered away again. And we sat in shock. “That was awesome,” one of our friends whispered. And my husband was inspired and said, “Let’s ask him if we could get him some food or something to drink . . . something.” And the guys called him over yet again and made our offer of a refreshment. But our unusual new friend simply smiled at us and shook his head graciously. “No. . . . No thanks. It costs nothing to be nice.” And he wandered away from us for the very last time. . . .
“It costs nothing to be nice.” That phrase has stuck with me for years now. We all know there’s so much anger and ugliness and sheer hatred in our world. We feel it around us. We feel it within us. It’s awful, overwhelming, exhausting. But there is kindness. Kindness is something we can choose. And the “cost” of kindness is totally worth it.
My challenge to myself today is to choose kindness and do kindness. Will you join with me, wherever you are?