One kind gesture at a time can change the world
Earl Bowers greeted me the same way every Family Express employee does when I walk into one of their ubiquitous stores.
“Hello! Hello!” Bowers said cheerily from behind the pizza counter.
I’m never sure how enthusiastically I should reply to these employees. They’re obviously trained to say hello and then conditioned through a Pavlovian response to anybody who walks through their doors.
I’m also not sure if they do it strictly to welcome customers, or to verbally acknowledge that they see you entering their workplace, which has been known to reduce theft. To be polite, I typically respond in the same robotic tone as many of those employees.
“Hello, hello,” I muttered to Bowers without looking his way.
I just happened to be holding the door open for a guy behind me, who then held the door open for a woman behind him. Bowers noticed this gesture of gentlemanly etiquette, unremarkable as it was.
“Look at that,” Bowers said joyfully to no one in particular. “Opening a door for the lady.”
To be honest, I didn’t pay much attention to my gesture. I was in a hurry to get inside for my latest fix.
I’ve been addicted to Family Express’ maplecovered cinnamon rolls. I should be in a 12-step program, but that’s another column. Anyway, after putting gas in my car that day, I popped into the Valparaiso store to see if any rolls were available. They weren’t.
I shrugged and began to walk out when Bowers again caught my attention.
“That’s how we can save our world!” he said to no one in particular. “One kind gesture at a time! Yes sir! One kind gesture!”
I politely smiled and nodded my head in agreement as I exited.
It was a few minutes later, while driving to my next appointment, when Bowers’ words began echoing in my head: “One kind gesture at a time.”
Hmm, I thought to myself.
My rose-colored glasses cracked a long time ago. Still, there was something about Bowers’ energy level and positivity when he said those words to anyone listening. He seriously meant it. You could just tell. I admired that quality about him more than the words he spoke.
I figured that Bowers not only preached it, but also practiced it — in that moment and probably almost every moment in his life, I’m guessing.
On that day, I was heading to interview a Crown Point woman whose teenage son took his life. And I would later be calling a Gary woman who said she was raped by the grandfather of one of her foster children. Yeah, my work days aren’t always seashells and rainbows.
In between those interviews, I listened to a talk radio news segment about something called “Headline Stress Disorder:
When breaking news is bad for your health.” I wondered about the legitimacy of this latest 21st century malady.
Each day, I read three to four print newspapers, plus several news stories online, and I watch at least three TV news shows. Together, that’s dozens of news headlines every day, mostly negative stories about our crumbling country and self-destructive world.
Here is a sampling of recent newspaper headlines from a thick stack on my desk.
“Sitting tied to increased risk of death from 14 diseases.”
“Earth getting sicker, has a bad fever.”
“Rudy Giuliani says ‘Truth isn’t truth.’”
“Bacteria growth in public restrooms.”
“Horseface, Miss Piggy and other slurs against women from President Trump.”
“Study: Misleading social media posts exploding globally.”
“Opioid epidemic reaching into small-town America.”
Look familiar to you? Maybe this Headline Stress Disorder is a real thing. Maybe not.
Regardless, it’s no secret that our country is more politically polarized than I can remember in my adult lifetime. The mere mention of the name Trump can divide a room. And we may be living amid the most hostile racial tensions since the 1960s.
Our national discourse has turned into a national tragedy.
At the grocery store last week, a checkout employee lowered her voice to ask my thoughts on nowU.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. I wasn’t sure if I should be honest or polite with her. Politeness would cost me less than a minute. Honesty could take up to an hour. I agreed with her opinion and bagged my groceries.
Casual chats have turned into conversational landmines. What to say. What not to say. How deeply should we share our feelings with others, not to mention our opinions with strangers? It has become so easy – too easy – to make casual enemies in our society. Not people you actually hate with a passion, but people you instinctively avoid with a shrug.
Our politics seem to define us instead of helping to describe us. Everyone seems touchy about something. Or on some days about everything.
All of these jagged thoughts rattled through my mind after leaving the Family Express that day. I could hear Bowers’ merry mantra: “That’s how we can save our world! One kind gesture at a time! Yes sir!”
I recalled his spirit, his smile and his hopefulness.
I wondered if the Earl of Kind Gestures was onto something after all. His upbeat attitude sure beats my chronic pessimism and cracked rose-colored glasses.
I came to the conclusion that I left Family Express without a maple-covered cinnamon roll, but with something I needed more – a hope-covered change of heart with our distasteful world. If only for a moment.
A couple of days later, while entering another gas station to buy a lottery ticket, I purposely waited a few extra seconds to hold the door open for an older woman.
She didn’t say thank you.
I forced a smile anyway. One kind gesture. Yes ma’am.
Earl Bowers prepares pizzas while cheerily chatting with customers at the Family Express gas station on Calumet Avenue in Valparaiso.