I loved a You Tube video that was filmed recently at the old John Wanamaker department building in Philadelphia at the end of October. It was amazing…. suddenly hundreds of shoppers broke out into the Hallelujah chorus. They represented about fifteen different choirs in the greater Philadelphia area who had been secretly preparing, sponsored by a group who is committing to “random acts of culture” over the next few years. Awesome!
I shared this video with my ladies’ English class, and my partner Mary and I spent awhile explaining what “random acts of kindness” means. They all were quite surprised that there is even a phrase like this… so I shared two stories that have given us insight into what kinds of random acts of kindness work, and don’t work in Japan.
Ex. 1: Eric and I have tried every year during the Christmas season to do a “random act of kindness” for someone or a family who might have a need at that time. We have often done it anonymously, but found there are times when that isn’t always the best thing. One year when we were living in Sendai, we bought a kerosene heater for a family with six children who only had one heater during the very cold winters. On Christmas eve we left it on their doorstep with a big bow. A day or two later, our pastor came over, and asked if we were the ones who had given the heater. The wife and the children were a part of our church, but not the husband. He got very upset that someone had left a heater anonymously, and demanded to know who it was.
We of course, felt SO horrible when we heard this, and immediately went over and “confessed” our act. The dad was fine once he knew it was us — it was the NOT knowing that he didn’t like. And as I shared this story with my ladies’ class, they all understood and agreed – anonymous doesn’t usually work so well in this culture.
The second story also took place in Sendai – perhaps you have heard us tell this story. We were driving in the pouring rain on one of the major freeways. On the opposite side, we noticed as we drove by a young woman in a white suit and high heels wheeling a huge tire down the freeway, by herself, in the pouring rain. A few hundred feet further we saw her intended destination– her SUV. We couldn’t believe that no one had stopped to help her! We got up to the toll booth, paid, and made a U-Turn to go back and help her. We pulled next to her, and had her get in our car while Eric put her tire in our van and we backed up to her car. We waited together for the tow car to come. Her Dad had changed her tires the night before and had forgotten to screw on the nuts! Suddenly on the freeway the tire had just whipped off of the car and down the freeway — it was a miracle no one was injured or killed.
After the repairman came, we gave her our phone number and left. That night, she called to thank us; two days later she, her fiance, and her mother showed up at our doorstep, bearing presents. That was the beginning of a special friendship that has continued. Miki and Kentaro got married, and they have visited us during our visits to the U.S. and three times since we’ve lived in Sanda… they just were here this weekend with their darling two year old daughter. We had such a good time! That spontaneous U-turn eight years ago feels very un-random – totally predetermined.
Even as I write out this happy-ending story, though, I think about the year before this original incident about ten years ago… Eric and I were driving at night down a completely deserted road in Montana when we saw a pick-up truck pulled over on the highway with its hazard lights on. I can’t remember if we saw somebody or not, but somehow we knew it was a car that needed help. We were a bit freaked out – there was no one else for MILES and MILES – and kept driving. I’ve always wondered who it was and who we didn’t stop to help – and what difference we could have made.
So, I’m thinking a lot about random acts of kindness. Especially as the Christmas season comes up, Eric and I are talking about how we can be further partakers in random acts of kindness this year (not too anonymously), and encourage others to do the same. We are going to do secret angels with our ladies’ English class – it will be fun to see what they do with that. I was thinking how awesome it would be to see such spectacular random acts as the Hallelujah chorus happen across Japan! For now we’ll have to keep it simple – but who knows what could happen?