Jessica Cronenberger: We all have the power to improve others’ lives - The Buffalo News
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Jessica Cronenberger: We all have the power to improve others’ lives

We often do things without much thought. Busy lives, busy days. Good or bad, that’s just the monotony that creeps into our human existence. When someone does something especially kind and it’s newspaper worthy, we read about it and think: “How nice that was; I wish I did more things like that.” Well, guess what? You do!

Our church recently challenged our Sunday School students and adult members to do some acts of kindness during the pre-Easter season. To get them all in gear, we invited Darnell Barton to come and say a few words about his experience with that. If you remember, he was the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority bus driver who stopped to help the young woman who appeared to be about to jump off a bridge.

When we thought about our endeavor, Barton came to mind in an instant as the person who epitomizes a “random act of kindness.” An impressive figure, he captured the attention of the group with his presence alone. He had me immediately, even before I met him, when he mentioned that he would have to reorganize his working schedule and get permission from his boss to join us that morning.

Impressively articulate and with a natural flow to his words, Barton took us all along on that particular bus ride that morning, a day that started off a bit late, with the usual aggravations on the way. When he saw the woman, he couldn’t quite wrap his brain around it. Others were just walking by, biking along and seemingly totally oblivious to this potentially life-threatening situation.

Without thinking about the absurdity of stopping mid-traffic at rush hour, much less on a bridge, Barton felt himself making that move. He didn’t hesitate to leave his fares and just act. His concern and empathy for her situation turned her around – body and spirit. Barton just did what came naturally for him. But that wasn’t the case for our students.

Afterward, when I challenged the children to consider doing their own good deeds and write them down on paper “pavers” to build a road around the walls, they seemed confused. They tried so hard to think of what they could do, yet most of the children came back with empty forms. One or two trickled in, but the blank stares I got had me puzzled.

It took me a while to realize that although they do good things every single day, they didn’t recognize them as acts of kindness. Like Barton, they just did them. Once they read the ones I had posted and realized, “Hey, I do that!” they caught on. It didn’t have to be some grand gesture, just something nice. By the third week, our pavers had quadrupled.

While I was securing them to the wall, it finally dawned on me that we usually don’t take inventory of our actions every day, but once we’re forced to itemize, we tend to improve and take more control.

The children have intentionally, via the actions of others and careful deliberation, begun to act on a situation more often, and to do that good thing.

I’ve read all of the children’s contributions as I’ve collected them, and even the simple, “I read a book to my baby brother,” by a 6-year-old reaffirms that no matter the age, we all have “stepped off that bus” many times a day, and affected others more than we realize.

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