Sully Sullenberger, the captain who skillfully landed US Airways flight 1549 on the Hudson River on January 15, 2009, has become a household name. After striking a flock of geese that disabled the engines, Sullenberger flew the plane like a giant glider and landed safely on the Hudson River saving the lives of 155 people on board. For thirty years Sullenberger flew airplanes in an uneventful career. This one act made him a national hero.
Most don’t remember the heroic act of a French tourist who plunged into the river to save a two-year-old child. When Julien Duret saw Bridget Sheridan slip through the guard rail and fall into the East River, he did not hesitate. He immediately jumped into the river to save her. Later, amid all the commotion, he took a taxi and disappeared without waiting to be thanked. Like most heroes, he did not consider himself heroic.
Few of us will be given such significant opportunities to perform heroic feats that make the news. And even if the heroic opportunity were given to us, we might miss it.
Celebrated heroic actions make a difference. They burst upon us like a torrential downpour that sweeps us off our feet. But it is the little known acts of kindness that often make the greatest difference. They are like the raindrops that pool into fresh water lakes and nourish the earth.
Jesus recognized the importance of heroic and sacrificial actions. He said, “Greater love hath no man than to lay down his life for his friend.” Of course, this is what He did when He went to the cross and laid his life down for us. But He also taught the importance of little acts of kindness. In fact, it might very well be that the little acts of kindness we choose to do every day have a far greater impact in transforming the world than a few famous acts of heroism.
All of us have opportunity every day to perform little acts of kindness. We all have opportunity to let someone else in line before us, to hold a door open for a stranger, to speak a kind and encouraging word to the cashier who wearily scans countless items at the checkout counter. We can all be kind to a waitress who works for a minimum wage to support her child, or a student working nights to pay for college.
A friend recently recounted his visit to Arby’s. Completing a cell phone call, he watched from his car as a large woman frantically searched the back seat of her car. He asked if there was a problem. She told him she had a roll of quarters she was going to use to buy lunch, but she could not find them. He pulled out a $10 bill and asked, “Will this help?” She refused. He insisted. Inside he stood behind the rattled woman as she thanked him profusely. She said, “God sent you, you know.” When the cashier delivered his order she said, “The manager was watching and he went ahead and gave you a free sandwich.”
Little acts of kindness add up. All put together, they can change the world. Jesus said, “In that you have done it to the least of these, you have done it to Me” (Matthew 25:40).