Random acts

As I took my daily walk in the neighborhood this morning, a car pulled up beside me and a woman offered me a bottle of water. She had a cooler and a boy (who looked to 7 or so) with her, and she told me they were driving around handing out water bottles.

By the time I thought to ask her why, she had driven off. I encountered others on my route — runners, walkers, people working in their yards — who had also been on the receiving end of her beneficence. We raised our bottles to one another cheerfully as we passed, big, goofy smiles of recognition on our faces.

I have no idea what lay behind this woman’s actions this morning, but some intriguing possibilities come to mind. It might have been a project for school, or something inspired by a church program. Maybe the idea came from a movie or television show — perhaps even a radio show. Or it might have been prompted by something in a book or magazine.

My chances of finding out are pretty slim. I didn’t recognize the woman or the child, and I doubt I would if I saw them again, unless they were handing out water. I don’t even know if they live in our neighborhood.

What impressed me most is the warmth I felt when I accepted that bottle, from the smile and wave we exchanged as she drove off. That warmth stayed with me, the bottle in my hand a continuing reminder. The feeling was renewed every time I saw someone else holding a similar bottle, with the smiles and nods that passed between us. We all had more in common than usual, thanks to that woman.

Not only did her gift make each of us feel good individually, it disposed us to share that good feeling with others. It also created a kind of affinity group among those who had been recipients of her kindness, and we recognized each other with a simple joy that reinforced the original gift experience we shared.

Such a small and uncomplicated thing to do, handing out bottles of water. None of us were parched or dehydrated, but accepting that gift of water changed each of our days. Water is a humble yet universal symbol of shared embodiment, but I think the real power was in the act itself, in the giving and in the receiving.

In the words of my favorite rabbi, “Go and do likewise.”

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