By John Halford
About the time Cho Cheung-hui was beginning his deadly rampage at Virginia Tech, I was in our local drugstore replenishing my prescription. It is an old-style business, offering personal service and fair prices. It is always a happy, friendly place. The people who work there seem to remember everyone by name, and treat their customers with a genuine courtesy.
On that April morning, we were as yet unaware of the drama that was unfolding a few hundred miles to the east. But I was very much aware of a tragi-comedy happening in front of me.
"It was just a very simple, spontaneous act of kindness, but suddenly the day seemed brighter. Doing good has that effect."
A rather bedraggled man, who did not seem to be our most prosperous citizen, was laboriously counting out coins to pay for his prescription. Quarters, dimes, nickels and a few pennies littered the counter as he fumbled in his pockets for more. A few dollar bills were piled up untidily on one side.
Tanya, who was serving him, waited patiently. I wasn’t in a hurry, so I — uncharacteristically — waited patiently, too. After a while the man realized he didn’t have enough, and went off to find his wife. She arrived with a few more crumpled dollar bills, but they were still $2.00 short.
"That’s all we have," she said. "We had to buy gas to get here."
They were very embarrassed, but Tanya quickly put them at ease.
"Don’t worry. I’ll cover it," she said. She went to get her purse and came back with two dollars, put the money in the till and gave them their medicine.
"I’ll pay you next time we are in town," promised the lady.
"Forget it. Just pass it on," said Tanya.
After the couple had left, I said, "That was a very kind thing to do."
"Well, I do it when I can," she replied. "I don’t always have extra, but when I do, why not help?"
It was just a very simple, spontaneous act of kindness, but suddenly the day seemed brighter. Even if we are not affected personally, doing good has that effect.
I drove home, to the news of the massacre at Virginia Tech. A disturbed young man had cut off the lives of more than 30 people, and had cast a pall of grief over the entire nation. Even if we are not affected personally, an act of violence and anger of this magnitude leaves us disturbed and depressed.
Meanwhile, in a little town in rural Indiana, a kind shop assistant had made her part of the world a better place. But surely, such a small incident would be swamped by the great evil.
But that is not so. In Matthew 25, Jesus tells us that he feels it personally, and will remember it whenever we help those less fortunate then ourselves: "I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me" (Matthew 25:40).
At the end of the book of Revelation, Jesus promises that there will be a time when "He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away" (Revelation 21:4).
As I write this, the massacre at Virginia Tech is dominating the news, and will for several more days. The evil consequences of that one terrible act of cruelty, for now, far outweigh on any scale some simple and tiny act of goodness done in a corner. But in the eternal scheme of things — from the point of view of our eternal life in God’s kingdom of love and joy — it is the acts of kindness, not cruelty, that will be remembered.
When all is said and done, I think that acts of goodness, such as Tanya did, will have made the bigger and longer-lasting impact.