Last December, 20+ members of the Miami office of our law firm piled into a chartered bus at 6:30 in the morning to begin a 4 ½ hour, 269 mile one way journey to Orlando where we were scheduled to join up with the attorneys and staff in our Lake Mary office for the firm’s annual holiday luncheon. In a concerted effort to create a more festive atmosphere on the bus, several members of the firm had gotten together and purchased boxes of Santa (and elf) hats and clip-on reindeer antlers, which they promptly handed out to the partners “who appeared most in need of a dose of holiday cheer!” As you can tell from the accompanying photograph, I apparently was deemed to fall into that category – likely due, in part, to my inability to fully understand why we had decided to drive a total of 600 miles to eat lunch at a restaurant that has a store 2 ½ blocks from the front door of our Miami office! Be that as it may, I warmly embraced my new role as one of Santa’s chosen 12 and managed to have a perfectly wonderful time mingling with our friends to the north. However, it was what happened after the luncheon on the way back to the bus that is my fondest and most memorable moment of the trip.
Turns out the restaurant has a patio area that accommodates larger parties and those who, on that day, were looking to enjoy what was a particularly beautiful Central Florida afternoon. At one of the tables, an 8 top, there were two “early 30 something” couples, a grandparent and 3 young children under the age of 6 – two boys and a girl. Not unlike most gatherings of its kind, the adults were fully engrossed in conversation with each other and the children were essentially left to “fend” for themselves. In fact, as far as the adults were concerned, the kids could just as easily have been invisible or, “better yet,” not been there at all, which is likely why they immediately were drawn to us as we passed by in our silly festive attire. I’m not sure what called my attention to this not-so-unusual “picture,” but we hadn’t taken 10 steps past the table when I stopped, summoned a couple of my “fellow antler-heads” and headed back to the patio. After first interrupting the parents to “ask their permission,” two of my friends and I removed our “headgear” and playfully placed them on each of the kids’ heads. I only wish the entire world could have witnessed the radiance of the smiles that immediately burst onto the faces of those children!
They could not have been more excited or more thankful for our gifts. It was only later, on the bus ride home, however, that I realized how little their smiles had to do with the gift itself – a goofy-looking $2.50 set of awkward fitting fur covered antlers. No, their smiles were too big, too genuine to have their roots in the antlers. Their smiles were a celebration of the fact that someone, an adult, stopped all the “important stuff” they were busy doing and took a moment to acknowledge their existence – to make them, at least momentarily, the sole object of their attention. Finally, but no less importantly, their smiles reflected the joy that almost reflexively comes from being the recipient of a simple act of kindness, even when the “bestower” of that act is a complete stranger. In short, they smiled because we stepped outside of our collective self-absorption just long enough to listen and respond to the needs of their youthful hearts – fundamental needs that all hearts, young and old, share in common to be “noticed” and cared for. I couldn’t help but think how different their young lives would be – all of our lives would be – if EVERY DAY – we were acknowledged in some way and the beneficiary of even a simple act of kindness.