“In all my wanderings, it seems to me that the grace of God is in courtesy.” So wrote the famous English writer of the 1930s, Hilaire Belloc.

As this is my first column for 1992 – the January column was written in December 1991 – I was trying to think of something positive as a subject. Then, on Sunday last, I happened to pick up the Christopher News Notes at the back of a church. The subject for December 1991 was “Kindness counts.” So, I decided that I could not choose a better subject on which to dwell for the beginning of the new year than the practice of the virtue of kindness.

One of the article headings is “kindness thrives in the home.” The writer explains that the word “kind” is derived from the Old English word “cynd,” which meant “kin” or “family.” This, I must admit, was new information for me and it is very significant.

The Notes go on to say, “Within the home, we first learn to respect and care for others. Yet, it’s easy to take those closest to us for granted.” How true that observation is! Then there follows, “The home can be a training ground for kindness. Every determined, unspoken act of kindness can lead to greater co-operation and generosity.”

In Ireland, I remember the expression, “Oh, he’s a street angel,” meaning that the person under discussion was an angel to everybody on the street, but a devil to his family. It could be worth thinking about!

The Notes continue, “Every line of work offers its own possibilities for showing kindness and consideration – to coworkers, business associates, clients and customers.”

Several true-to-life instances were given. The one that appealed to me was that of Bill Ogbum. Bill has been a milkman in a Los Angeles district for over 40 years. He brings good cheer to all his customers and brings the groceries for the old people who find it difficult to get out. If people sometimes need credit, Bill always obliges and says that they never let him down. His observation is, “I’ve got a lot of great folks.”

Perhaps it is Bill’s kindness that brings out the greatness in his customers.

Good neighbours. What a difference they can make! One lady discussed in the article, Ruth Hammond, remembers the woman who cared for her children while she was having her fourth baby. And when she returned home, the Colorado neighbour made dinner and kept an eye on the older children. Mrs. Hammond concludes, “She brought peace into my life at a time when I desperately needed it.”

But kindness is not meant to be confined to those whom we know and who may pay us back.

The Notes gave the example of a husband and wife named John and Tib Sherrill. One evening, their car just stopped on the highway. Dozens of large cars flashed by and ignored their waving. Then a man in a pickup truck pulled up and asked if he could help. He drove them 25 miles to their service station.

The result of this act of kindness has been that the Sherrill’s never pass anyone on the highway who is in trouble. They have to change their whole attitude towards other people. The Book of Proverbs sums it up in these few words, “Those who are kind reward themselves” (11:17).

Perhaps one of the greatest enemies of practical kindness is lack of forgiveness.

There are people who harbour a grudge in their hearts for years over some chance remark or imagined slight or, sad to say, even a deliberate offence. They will never forgive. And they carry that totally un-Christian attitude to the grave. They are the losers!

Perhaps, every Sunday they repeat the words of the Lord’s Prayer, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” And they continue to refuse to forgive.

This usually means that they refuse to do the most ordinary acts of kindness to their “victims.” Every Good Friday they read or hear the words, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do,” and “This day thou shalt be with me in paradise.” But, they never apply these words to themselves. A refusal to forgive blights the soul. St. Paul wrote in Ephesians 4, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.”

One of the most beautiful and meaningful of our Lord’s parables is surely that of the Good Samaritan. When those who should have known and acted better passed by on the other side, the Samaritan took pity on the Jewish wayfarer and gave him every assistance. Jesus asked his hearers the question, “Which of these, in your opinion, was neighbour to him who fell among robbers?” The answer came, “The one who treated him with compassion.” And Jesus said, “Go thou and do likewise.”

Those five words about sum up all that I have been trying to say: “Be kind.”

Did you win the day or lose it?

Is anybody happier because you passed their way?
Does anyone remember that you spoke to them today?
The day is almost over and its toiling time is through,
Is there any to utter now a grateful word of you?
As you take a glance back over the day that’s ebbing fast,
Did you help a single person of the many that you passed?
Is a single heart rejoicing over what you did or said?
Does the one whose hopes were fading now with courage look ahead?
Did you win the day or lose it? Was it well or sorely spent?
Did you leave a trail of kindness or a scar of discontent?
As you close your eyes in slumber, do you think that God will say,
“You have earned one more tomorrow by the good you did today?”

This column was originally published in The Interim’s February 1992 issue.