The quality I most admire about my father is his integrity. He’s just a good guy, and he always seems to do the right thing. I try to live a life of integrity, but sometimes it’s hard. I lose my patience. I clench my teeth. I think hateful thoughts about inadequate drivers. How do I teach my boys to be young men of integrity when the very definition is doing the right thing even when no one is watching?
Years ago, before the advent of self-checkout lanes—a lane where I don't have to make small talk about why I’m buying Diet Coke and package of 12 Entenmann’s donuts? Sign me up!—I was in the express lane at Giant. A few customers in front of me was a woman who had several items to purchase when suddenly she looked at the next customer’s items on the belt and realized she’d forgotten to pick up bread. She made a panicked comment under her breath about how she’d need to go back and get bread when the customer behind her said, “here, take mine. I’m not in a hurry. I’ll go back and get bread.” He grabbed his items off the belt, got out of line, and headed toward the bread aisle. As luck would have it, he got back to the line before she left the store, and in order to repay the kindness, she paid for all of his items.
Every once in a while you witness one of those rare moments that restore your faith in humanity in some small way. It wasn’t a grand gesture. It was a simple act of kindness that manifested into something else, because not only did the woman not have to get back in line or the gentleman have to pay for his items, but the rest of us in line witnessed something that made me, at least, pause and think about how little effort it takes to be kind. There’s a difference between being nice and being kind, and I try to teach my children that they should be kind to everyone, even those who don’t seem to deserve it.
My father tells a story (and there are a lot of stories. A lot.) about a man on a train whose children were wreaking havoc. Trapped in a steel tube with unruly children is unpleasant, no doubt, and other patrons began snickering and whispering about the children’s behavior and apparent lack of discipline. Finally someone spoke up and asked the man to control his children. He seemed to be zoning out as he apologized and explained that he had just received some devastating news and he didn’t know what he was going to tell the children.
You never know what someone else’s story is, and as we approach the time of year when we get bombarded with the notion of Christmas cheer and the Spirit of the Holidays, perhaps we need to remember that everyone has a story. I get stressed out over the holidays--the shopping, the baking, the crowds, the wrapping, the parties, the excitement, the travel—it’s so . . . . much. I find myself getting snippy and annoyed when I, apparently, should be feeling cheerful and jolly. This year I’m going to make more of an effort to act with integrity and to be kind even when I’m feeling cranky and overwhelmed. (Otherwise known as every day in December.) I want to be able to show my children that I can take a deep breath and act with kindness even when those around me seem undeserving. I can’t control how others act, but I can set a good example for my own family; because even when I feel like no one is watching, my kids are.