Wendell Williams

As some of you know, I am on a one-year quest to catalog the many random acts of kindness that have been shown to me — most by complete strangers. I am alive today because of the cumulative effect of all of those wonderful acts. 

These small kindnesses don’t usually show immediate results. But looking back on my journey, I can see each one got me through that day, that situation, or that crisis and allowed me to stay alive long enough for the miracle to happen. 

It would have been impossible to predict who would perform the acts or where and when they would happen. But they always happened just at the right time, not a minute sooner or later.  

It was kind of like the old black-and-white gangster movies I used to watch on TV as a kid. Whenever James Cagney or some unrepenting gangster was taking that long walk to Oblivion, meaning the electric chair, the camera would focus on a nondescript telephone hanging on the wall. Some prison official would always have his hand on the receiver, waiting to answer if the governor called to say they had been granted a stay of execution. 

So many times I was down to my last penny or to my last ray of hope, when some stranger came along to give me whatever it was that I needed to move me forward or to keep me safe for that moment.  

I began to come up with the idea to write about these acts as I began my personal recovery in a program that required me to list the people I had harmed. When thinking about that long list, I also began to think about how businesses are inventoried. I then thought about one of my favorite TV shows, “My Name Is Earl,” where a dirty rotten scoundrel, through a miracle, saw his life in the harm he had done to others and set off to right those wrongs. It is from that show I got the motivation to not only look at the wrong that I have done but to sort of flip it around and inventory the kind things people had done for me, even though I was so undeserving.

As I struggled through the years, I learned from people like Alan Johnson, a former mentor who passed away with over 51 years sober. He used to always say, “My job is to do my best and the spirits of the universe will do the rest.”  

Today I believe him. It has been demonstrated time and again by these many, truly random, acts of kindness.  

One of the most recent examples occurred Sunday, June 17, in Takoma Park.  

Wendell Williams setup to sell papers at the Takoma Park farmers market. Photo courtesy of Wendell Williams

Some of you know that I have been doing some traveling recently. What you may not know is, in some of the places that I’ve been going, I’ve been attempting to help start groups to support people along the road to recovery from various substances. It has left me almost strapped doing this work, which is always pro bono.  

So, as I stood in Takoma Park distributing my paper, I was trying to figure out how I was going to pay my July bills, specifically my rent.  

As I did the math in my head, a couple walked up and addressed me by name. It kind of freaked me out because I did not recall ever meeting them before. The gentleman said he was a member of the Washington Ethical Society, which had recently come up with a plan to anonymously distribute funds they had been raising into the community. The couple was supposed to find a person they thought could really use the help, and pass on the envelope they had been given.  

I was their person. The man went into his pocket and handed me a white envelope with the Washington Ethical Society logo on it. I was floored they thought so much of me to choose me for this very kind gift. I thanked them and they walked away. Then I stuck the envelope in my back pocket and kept trying to distribute my paper and ask for donations.

At the end of my shift, as I packed up everything, I opened the envelope. The amount inside was exactly equal to what I had predicted my shortfall would have been for the coming month. 

I sure I’ll be looking around and watching passersby for weeks, wondering who those people were and why they picked me. Washington Ethical Society, I am truly grateful for your gift. 

What random acts of kindness have helped you out? Please share them with Wendell via [email protected].