Daddy and Mama both spent a lot of time seeing after the needs of others. They comforted, called and cooked for those who were, in some way, suffering.
And if it came down to it, and sometimes it did indeed, Daddy gave away the last dollar in his pocket to someone in need.
“He needed it more than I did,” he would say. “Never turn your back on a soul in need.”
As he was oft to say, “You can only help someone when they need help. All the other times that you think you’re helping, you’re just pretending for the sake of your own conscience.”
What he meant by that is simple: If you buy a meal for someone who can afford her own meal, you have been thoughtful. But if you buy it for someone who cannot afford food, you have been kind. There is a difference.
On Sunday afternoons, Mama and Daddy faithfully visited the elderly and the infirm, paying special attention to give one of the greatest kindness of all: the gift of time to those who are lonely.
It is a legacy that I and my family take seriously. Mama and Daddy did not leave us imbued with tremendous wealth but rather with the responsibility to continue what they had long practiced — putting others before ourselves.
“Don’t think more of yourself than you do of others,” Daddy intoned.
Lately, I’ve been thinking about this and wondering: Are we born with compassion or do we learn it? Is it inbred in us or is it taught to us? Possibly a combination of both, but I surmise that the majority of it is taught to us by our parents and to them by their parents. We inherit goodwill.
My sister visits the funeral home so much to pay respects that she has her own VIP parking place. And rightly so. My niece takes her children to the nursing home to visit, knowing that nothing cheers the ones who are there more than babies and dogs. My brother-in-law is a quick call away from anyone who needs a helping hand. One day I was cutting grass when I hit a piece of wood that lodged in the blade so tightly that I couldn’t remove it. I called Rodney.
“I’m eating lunch so I’ll be down there as soon as I’m finished,” he said. He was as good as his promise.
As he worked on the mower, I asked, “What have you been doin’ today?”
“Well,” he began, “I planned on workin’ on my pasture, but so far I’ve just been helpin’ everybody else.” He ran through a list of five people, including me, who had called for help and he answered. He didn’t mind because as he says, “A man likes to feel needed by others. Nothin’ tickles me more than to help someone out.”
He looked at his watch. “It’s one o’clock now, so I guess I’ll see if I can do something to help Rodney this afternoon.”
I keep a running list of people who need a note, a visit, a call or a cake. It is my intention every day to do a kindness for someone, to make sure that day is not all about me. I have a friend who is kind and sweet, but every decision is based on what she and her family wants. Her world is small and doesn’t stretch out to see the needs, small or large, of others. Her heart is warm and compassionate, but she fails to put muscle and time behind that compassion. On the occasions that she helps, it is when it is convenient and requires little energy.
I am puzzled by that. But more than puzzlement, it makes me grateful. I love the legacy from my parents.
I couldn’t ask for a better inheritance.
Ronda Rich is the best-selling author of the forthcoming “There’s A Better Day A-Comin’.” Visit www.rondarich.com to sign up for her weekly newsletter.