For those of you under the age of 60, there used to be milkmen; men whose job it was to deliver bottles of milk and cream to peoples’ homes. There was a story I once read about a milkman who had made a big delivery to a family of six, the youngest of which was a new baby. The husband had lost his job, the wife baked pies and cakes for a local restaurant, and they had a hard time making ends meet.
The family suddenly moved out in the middle of the night; too ashamed to let anyone know where they were going. The rent wasn’t paid, and neither was the milkman. He complained mightily to his wife about this, especially since he had had to make up the cost of that big delivery himself. Every night for a week, he came home in a bad mood, and always griped about the family who he felt had cheated him.
His wife finally sat him down and said, “you know, you’re making yourself and me miserable complaining about those poor people. How do you know that they meant to cheat you? How desperate do you think they were to leave town like that, owing money they knew they couldn’t pay?”
The milkman argued with her, saying that it wasn’t right for him to have to pay for their delivery out of his own pocket. His wife put her arms around his neck and kissed him. She said, “That family was in trouble not of their own making; and imagine–six children to feed! Why don’t you think of that milk as your gift to them? Because of you, those children had milk. Because of you, they had one less thing to worry about.”
He looked at her and smiled, saying, “You know, you’re right. What better gift to a big family than milk?” He found it was a lot easier to think of it that way, and from then on the thought of it made him smile.
I loved that story. I think of it often, especially when I have the chance to do something nice for someone just ‘because.’ It can be as little as paying the toll for the car behind me. A small act of kindness, even a buck paid, makes a difference. We don’t know what others’ lives are like, and what they may be suffering.
I’ve also learned to let others be kind to me; if someone holds the door for me, I appreciate it. If someone lets me go ahead of them in the grocery line, I thank them for it. I used to feel uncomfortable about things like this, and would automatically turn them down, thinking I didn’t deserve it. But I finally realized that accepting a kindness from someone is a gift to them.
Kindness given is kindness received–that’s just how the universe works. It’s the same old karmic law–put good out, and good comes in. Put bad out, and bad comes in.
And the money or time or anything else we’ve given without being paid back? It all balances out in the end.