Most of us are taught from when we’re very small to avoid all contact with strangers. Don’t look them in the eye; don’t make friendly overtures, don’t speak to them, and don’t go running up and hugging random unknown characters. Above all, don’t accept the offer of candy or other lures from those who might turn out to be very lurid indeed.
All of that is mighty wise advice for little persons. They have no experience of the world, no basis for comparison or judgement, and no inner criteria to help them have a good chance of accurately assessing the situation. But when are we Big enough to learn that unfamiliar people are not only not all bad and dangerous but possibly in great need of any gracious and friendly contact they can possibly be given? When are we smart and experienced enough to realize that others around us are not always up to something nefarious or trying to sell us something we neither want nor need if they approach us out of the blue? When are we large-hearted enough to make a more hospitable evaluation of the risks or rewards in approaching the unknown with openness and warmth?
I have been told several stories recently that remind me of the opportunities that constantly surround us for making moves, both large and small, that have the potential to do anything from brightening someone else’s day to saving a life. Most of us fortunates have at some time and place in our lives ‘entertained angels unawares’–had a few of those moments of unexpected, extraordinary, beautiful contact with persons we didn’t know and understand that there are such agents in the world, even if we can’t immediately recognize them. Why not look for places where we can be those agents for no reason other than that we know from experience how powerful and life-changing, healing or hope-renewing, or just plain day-brightening such moments can be.
It is possible to be misinterpreted or rebuffed, true. But the vast majority of times that I’ve seen this sort of subversive joy-sharing happen without any ulterior motives, even if the recipient–sometimes me–is not altogether receptive at the outset, the end result is an astonished recognition that life is rather wonderful, that people, on the whole, are good and genuine and caring and fine, and that we have in our own small hands and hearts the astounding power of remaking ourselves and the world into better things by the simplest and least extravagant of means. A hug, a moment of patience where there has been tension. A donated dime or a pint of blood. A proffered packet of food or bottle of water that had been meant for something or someone else. Handing off the little trinket that was mine but that I can see another one admires or opening the box of treats I was saving for the family and sharing it instead with someone I don’t even know. Opening doors and assisting with chairs and lifting the parcel that’s too heavy for someone else.
They may seem tiny and insignificant enough. For those of us who choose to give them, they amount to easily made gestures. But insignificant? Hardly. For those of us who dared not, who may not have even known we could, ask–this one little mark someone offered to make on our day may mean, after it all, the whole world.