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Posts Tagged ‘good deeds’

Today I was reminded of another winter day almost ten years ago, when I was out walking my dog in the early evening. It was cold and slushy, so I was looking for the clearest route home, which turned out to be the parking lot behind an apartment complex that had been plowed. As we walked through the lot, I saw a cell phone lying on the ground next to an empty parking space. Generally speaking, I believe in good deeds. If I’d lost my phone, I would appreciate someone picking it up and getting it back to me, instead of leaving it to be run over.

photo by Arthaey Angosii

I was surprised to find that it didn’t have a passcode, but that made it simpler. I called the number that seemed in heaviest rotation on the phone, figuring that person could help me. A girl answered, and when I explained what had happened, she passed me to her boyfriend, the owner of the pho

Far from being grateful or pleasant, the boyfriend, who hadn’t even noticed his phone was gone, swore at me and accused me of stealing his phone. I asked him why he thought a thief would call him on his phone and repeated that I’d found it in the parking lot.

“What do you want me to do with it?” I said, completely over my good deed at that point. Foolishly, I imagined that he would tell me his apartment number and I would put the phone in his mail box.

“I’m on my way to Kansas City. I’m gonna be at the Applebee’s on Metcalf,” he said.

Okaaaaay. What I really thought was Who the hell drives all the way to Kansas City to eat at Applebee’s? Who drives anywhere to eat at Applebee’s?

“So you need to come over there and turn over my phone or I’ll call the police.”

He really said that! Turn over his phone! I couldn’t help but think of the the saying No good deed goes unpunished. For the first time I thought of why that is, and I had to conclude that unfortunately a lot of people are not prepared for kindness and don’t know how to do gratitude. Why? I’m not sure. My theory about this guy is that he was a terrible person, so he expected everyone else to be terrible too. What a sad way to go through life.

As for me, I opted out of having my good deed punished. I certainly wasn’t driving anywhere to deliver a phone to some jackass. As I stood out in the cold with my dog, there was a temptation to power down the phone and throw it into one of the apartment complex’s trash dumpsters. I’m not inherently an evil person, though. More Chaotic Neutral, really. So I said, “There are three empty lots at the corner of 19th & Tennessee. I’m going to throw your phone in one of them. It probably has enough battery power left that you’ll be able to call and find it, if you get here in the next 2 hours.”

I hung up without waiting to hear what he would say. I didn’t answer when it rang. My dog and I walked on to the corner of 19th and Tennessee, and just as I said I would, I threw the phone as far as I could into one of the empty lots. Then we walked home.

Later, at bedtime, I took the dog on the same route, out of a sick curiosity. At the corner, I could see two people walking around in one of the empty lots, using a cell phone as a flash light. Reader, it was the wrong empty lot.

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We all have good behaviors that we try to model. Politeness, respect, kindness, those sorts of blanket ideas about being decent people. Beyond that, though, we have specific good deeds which we are individually tasked with. True mitzvehs in the Yiddish sense of “good deeds” rather than mitzvahs, the commandments from the Torah.

It’s not clear to me how we take on these tasks. Do we choose them based on our personalities? Do the fates (or G*d, if you prefer) confer on us those good deeds we are best able to perform? Or are we given the good deeds that require the most effort from us? A mix of both?

For example, one of my mitzvehs is reuniting dish sets at the Salvation Army. I love china and spent many years in Florida buying and reselling china. I no longer do that, but when I go into the Salvation Army on one of my regular searches for treasure, I often spend an hour in the dish aisles. Not shopping for anything, but finding the sets of dishes that have been separated on accident, either in the donation or the pricing process. The sad fact is that many sets of nice china get separated and lose both their value and their purpose. By bringing the soup bowls and dinner plates and tea cups and saucers back together on the shelves, I’m helping those dishes go to a new home. I’m helping people buy matched sets on which to enjoy their nourishment. It’s a small deed to be sure, but it feels like something I’m meant for. It gives me pleasure and it’s useful.

Two of my other mitzvehs are not well-suited to my personality, and yet they are my good deeds to perform.

I am an introvert. A text book sort of introvert. I will go to great lengths to avoid interacting with people and, although I’m able to do so for short periods of time, I find it exhausting. Meeting new people is a kind of agony for me, which requires significant girding of my loins.

That said, as I walk across campus during the summer months, it’s not unusual for me to see students and their families posing in front of various landmarks for pictures. Of course, it always means one member of the family is left out of the picture. Despite my discomfort, my mitzveh requires me to approach and say, “Would you like your picture taken together?” To date, no one has ever turned the offer down, which is how I know it’s a good deed and not an intrusion.

Friends don't let friends pitch with their zippers down.

Friends don’t let friends pitch with their zippers down.

This business of approaching strangers is not at all suited to my personality, but it does not compare to the final mitzveh that I’ll mention here. XYZ. I am the person who tells you when you forgot to zip your pants. Or your slip is showing. Or your sanitary napkin has leaked through on your khaki pants. If you’ve ever been in an elevator on your way to an important presentation and some stranger said, “Um, your fly is down,” that was me, or one of my people. I once crossed behind a line of presenters on a stage to whisper into the ear of the guy who was about to stand up and speak in front of a thousand people: “When you stand up, turn back toward me like you have something to tell me. Then zip your pants.”

He did it, in a convulsive gesture of horror, and I could feel the members of the audience who had already noticed it exhale in relief. That is the mystery to me about this particular mitzveh. As uncomfortable as it makes me, I cannot imagine how uneasy I would be to let someone walk around in that state without telling them. Yet I know people who won’t point these things out, because it embarrasses them. As though I’m not embarrassed to say, “Oh, hey, you have a big booger in your mustache.”

I think that’s the nature of these tiny good deeds, though. They find us, or we find them, based on our view of the world. I spend a lot of time not looking people in the eye, so I suppose it’s natural that I should be the one who notices the gaping fly and flash of underwear.

What about you? What are your tiny good deeds? Why is it your mitzveh?

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