A couple Sundays ago we did a small thing out in the Mount Washington neighborhood.
For those of you who don’t know, the neighborhood is one of the darkest in my city, and it recently has been hit by a rash of violent incidents, especially highlighted by a stabbing death on one of its most traveled streets last year.
A small group of us went into the neighborhood to hand out free water, free Halloween candy, and talk to residents about what would make the neighborhood a better place to live.
It was fun. We had several good interactions with passersby. One child kept coming by with her dog, Milo, and wrote a few encouraging words on the sidewalk very seriously in pink chalk. Other people looked at us suspciously when we offered them free water and candy (I think they thought we were probably up to something.)
Nothing profound. Nothing earth shattering. Just a little good in a hurting neighborhood.
As part of my job, I’ve become an expert at wringing profundity out of the most mundane events. I can make a failed bake bean supper fundraiser sound like the second coming, if you give me a couple minutes. But, truth be told, sometimes free candy is just free candy, sometimes a couple decent conversations are just a couple decent conversations, and a few slogans written in chalk on the sidewalk are just, only, simply that.
These, of course, aren’t the stories that get passed around. We generally hear only the remarkable ones. Someone comes across a brilliant idea, and, like magic, it instantly changes a whole neighborhood. Someone does a good act that they think is anonymous, but soon it spreads like wildfire across the city. Someone goes out on the street to do something odd and beautiful and saves several lives in the process.
We like these stories. I like these stories. They’re beautiful, they’re inspiring, they make great reads.
However, they are not normal. And, if we expect them every time we serve others, we will be disapointed.
Most of the time, nothing groundbreaking, earthshattering, newsworthy happens.
Trash gets picked up. Flower beds get weeded. Candy gets handed out. Conversations get had.
All of them, on their own, pretty normal, simple, everyday things. Nothing to write a story about.
Truly great things do end up happening, but generally that’s because they’re just a lot of small things piled on top of each other, year after year after year, until they can amount to something noticeable.
Most of the time, doing good is much like anything else; sometimes you succeed, sometimes you fail, sometimes you make an outsized difference in someone’s life, and sometimes a free bottle of water is really only just that.
I try to keep that in mind. I hope for the big successes. Sometimes I make the mistake of even expecting them.
But significance only comes through hard, long, persistent, often horribly mundane efforts – and just because I didn’t change the neighborhood through a small bag of skittles didn’t mean that my time was poorly spent.
I consider our time spent in that neighborhood on a Sunday afternoon to be well spent. After all, we’re not expecting to swoop in like Superman and change the neighborhood in time for dinner. We’ll just keeping serving, keep loving, keep blessing. We’ll count our time there in years, not in days or in months.
And who knows? Maybe, someday, all those accumulated acts of kindness will turn into something great.