I saw the taxi pull up just as I was getting ready to head out for groceries. The passenger was a woman. A woman with two enormous suitcases. All I could think was: She'll never make it up the stairs to the building with those bags. So I ran out to help.
Little did I know that it wasn't just the stairs to the front door that we'd have to navigate, but also the narrow flights up several levels more to the apartment where she'd be staying. With no elevator, it was a hot, sweaty, grunting, groaning heave up to her place. But we managed it - together, that is. Having faced many an elevator-less, heavy suitcase situation of my own in the past, I was happy to come to the rescue. Just another opportunity in my day to offer a helping hand, I thought.
I didn't consider it a random act of kindness.
Almost two years later, I was on the phone with a friend when this woman's name came up in conversation. Since the day of the suitcase-haul a lot had changed. I'd moved to a new building, she, to another state. Frankly, I hadn't given that initial meeting even a passing thought since the day it had happened.
Apparently, though, she had. Because for her, my surprise appearance on the front stoop accompanied by my offer to help wasn't just the kindness of a stranger. It was the answer to a prayer.
"When she saw the stairs, she had no idea how she was going to manage her bags,"' my friend told me, "so she prayed: 'Father, help me.' Half a minute later, you came bounding out the front door."
So I had, I remembered. But I'd never thought of that impulse to help as divinely generated. Now I saw - quite plainly - that it had been. And this got me asking myself: Is any act of kindness arbitrary?
I think the answer depends on one's view of God - of what He is and how He made us. Here's the basis for my view, as articulated by Monitor founder Mary Baker Eddy: "Love, the divine Principle," she wrote, "is the Father and Mother of the universe, including man" ("Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," page 256).
I love the way Mrs. Eddy described God as both Love and Principle in this statement because it shows that benevolence could never be subject to randomness. Instead, love is linked to the ordering of things, to the very alignment of the universe. And what would be at the center of a universe outlined and ordered by such a loving-yet- principled God but an invariable rule of goodness, a fixed law of love.
How do we factor in? For me, it has to do with how willing I am to acknowledge my connection to that dependably kind Father-Mother. Mrs. Eddy explained this relationship later in "Science and Health" when she wrote, "Spiritual man is the image or idea of God, an idea which cannot be lost nor separated from its divine Principle" (page 303).
Recognizing our oneness with the Divine, then, is a key part of seeing ourselves as the agents of Love. Invariably, opportunities will come our way to lend a hand - or to offer a prayer. The more we actively acknowledge our unchanging connection to Principle, the less likely it is that we'll be distracted by tiredness, indifference, or obliviousness. Rather, with the ordering of things in the hands of Love, it would be natural that we'd be poised to act on the impulse to do good, and to find the strength, intuition, and grace to be of real use.
As for my neighbor and her suitcases, I didn't consider my spontaneous offer to help a random act of kindness then, but it's only now that I know why. Because at least as I've come to see it, no act of kindness could ever be a matter of chance. No, a God who is pure love - Love itself, in fact - wouldn't have fashioned a universe where selfless acts or benevolence are subject to arbitrariness. Instead, this caring Creator is constantly expressing Himself in ways that bless concretely and consistently, impelling each of us to do good works - to perform acts of kindness that could never be random.
Ye have not chosen me,
but I have chosen you,
and ordained you, that ye should
go and bring forth fruit.