This Christmas my dad came up with the greatest present idea ever: Small Acts of Kindness. Now, no, my dad did not INVENT the idea of Small Acts of Kindness, but because he is a lawyer with a strong attachment to structure, he created a system for executing the AOKs that is worthy of note: he and my mom alternate months throughout the year, and each month, one does two AOKs for the other.
Stipulations: the AOKs are not to be blended in with birthdays, Valentine’s Day, or anniversaries, and during their anniversary month, they are both exempt from the individual AOKs, since they will be doing something to celebrate together.
And no garden variety AOKs for him, either. There may be some flowers involved, a surprise lunch now and then, a gift or two, but for the most part the AOK is exactly what it says: an ACT of kindness, doing something the other person would truly appreciate. Examples thus far have included:
- making sure the other person’s shoes are polished and in good repair (no small task when the person has 12,537 pairs of shoes). I think this involved a tarp, rubber gloves, and a step ladder, in addition to the full spectrum of shoe polish colors;
- organizing the other person’s sock drawer (again, not a quick job when the person actually has 4 sock drawers–black, blue, golf, and golf overflow–and this is my DAD);
- repairing assorted items of clothing.
Martin and I loved this idea so much that we decided to do it too. Last month he cleaned my laptop for me, something I had no idea I would appreciate, and it felt like the sweetest, most thoughtful thing in the entire world. He looked absolutely adorable hunched over the keyboard with his spray nozzle, magnifying glass and tweezers.
This month I polished his shoes (approximately 1% as much work as my Dad polishing my mom’s shoes) and took one pair to the shoe repair shop to be resoled.
It is a truly delightful, almost genius idea, because in the context of a long-term relationship, it makes you feel so good to be doing something USEFUL and serviceable for this other person who, sometimes, you have forgotten how to see. It puts me in mind of a line from Barbara Kingsolver’s amazing book Prodigal Summer, where she describes a man putting on a shirt that his wife had ironed for him and how, during the day, wearing the shirt reminds him, “I am a man who is loved by a woman.”
The AOKs are low pressure–Hallmark does not know about this yet–so your AOKs are completely up to you, to be done how and when you choose. Being on the receiving end is lovely too; each month you know that two sweet and surprising things will happen to you, no matter what. I think this idea could single-handedly bring down the divorce rate by a good 50%. And there’s no telling what it could do for parent-child and other household relationships either. The possibilities are dazzling.
When Martin and I got married, we had the poem, “i carry your heart with me” by e.e. cummings printed in our wedding program. I stopped counting the number of times that my dad told me that he didn’t understand the poem. But I believe that he understands it quite well indeed.
i carry your heart with me
i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
my heart)i am never without it(anywhere
i go you go,my dear; and whatever is done
by only me is your doing,my darling)
no fate(for you are my fate,my sweet)i want
no world(for beautiful you are my world,my true)
and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you
here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows
higher than the soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart
i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)
Go ahead and do an AOK for someone you love this month, friends! Better yet, do two. You’ll love it!