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The Greatest Lesson of this Quest so Far

“The printer is broken, but I promise it’ll be the best ink you’ve ever seen,” our waiter joked as he explained why the bill was taking so long to arrive. I sighed to myself, feeling anxious to get back to the library in Estes Park. We were hiding out from rain at Rocky Mountain National Park, calling it a work day to begin the digital illustration of our next poster. By lunchtime we faced the prospect of another bland nomadic lunch of tortilla veggie wraps, and instead decided to follow the heavenly scent of roasted garlic wafting past the library.

What happened in the next hour was a reminder of the greatest lesson I’ve learned on this quest so far:

Simple acts of kindness are more powerful in the world than the world would have us believe.

And by the world, I mean media. That’s not to say bad things don’t happen, because I sure know that bad things happen every second. But what falls between the cracks are stories of remarkably ordinary people doing small, random acts of kindness each and every day.

Last year I traveled to Milan and met a man who told me he’d never visit America. His resolute attitude shocked me. “Why not?” The reply was politically driven, something along the lines of “I don’t like how America acts in the world.” Whether you agree with that statement or not, his ability to group 324+ million people into one category was rather sad.

He’d never get to meet the Texan who stopped to ask us if we needed help on the road. Or the lovely woman who hosted us on a whim and invited us to go dancing. Or that lady in Hot Springs who played us a tune on her harmonica while we filled up our water jugs. Or the couple from Wyoming who paid for our lunch, simply because they wanted to.

There are many travelers who can nod their heads right now. We crossed paths with a Swiss man hiking the Knife Edge Trail in Mesa Verde who expressed the same thoughts about kindness. He was on an epic Harley ride from San Francisco to Miami, making several stops along the way to see this beautiful country. As we shared travel stories, he told us about how many friendly people he’d met along his journey so far. I couldn’t agree more.

greatest_lesson_national_park_quest_knife_edge_trail_mesa_verde
Sunset with a Harley Davidson traveler at Knife Edge Trail.
The Texan who stopped to ask if we needed help.
The Texan who stopped to ask if we needed help.
Maybe because Andres was doing this.
Maybe because Andres was doing this.
This is what happens when a friendly "stranger" invites you to go dancing in Nashville.
This is what happens when a friendly “stranger” invites you to go dancing in Nashville.

Which brings me back to the savory scent of garlic. And our pizza lunch.

When the waiter finally came back with the bill we were surprised to see a note instead. What followed was a moment you see in movies but never expect to happen in your own life. The note said something like “It’s on us,” with a smiley face. After a few moments of confused words with the waiter, we realized a couple seated nearby had paid our bill.

“What do we do?” I asked Andres. Well, there was only one thing to do. We got up and said thank you. I was even more surprised when the woman stood up to give me a hug. Then she said:

Pay it forward.

Yes, I will, I promised.

A cup from the Anderson Design Group in Nashville.
Stickers from the Anderson Design Group in Nashville.

With Memorial Day around the corner, it’s good to take a moment to reflect on the simple acts of ordinary people. Whatever your political position no one can deny that many of us want the same things in life. Security, love, happiness. Strangers have sacrificed more for us than we will ever realize, so why not do something kind for another stranger? That Texan will never be famous on Facebook – he probably doesn’t know what it is – but he did inspire us to think twice next time we see someone laying down on the road. Hopefully they’ll simply be in the moment of getting a photo, as Andres was. Still, we’ll probably stop to ask.

That’s how kindness works. You pass it on.

Statue from Hot Springs National Park.
Statue from Hot Springs National Park.
Graves of families from Mammoth Cave National Park.
Graves of families from Mammoth Cave National Park.
Rocky Mountain National Park
Rocky Mountain National Park

Along this quest we talk about art and share photos of our natural world, but it’s also a journey about people. The national parks wouldn’t be here without simple acts of many good people doing something to protect our natural heritage. Why did they do it? Someone cared about a patch of woods or mountains or seashore, and eventually a national park was born. Although Someone didn’t know me, he or she knew there would be a future generation who needed that habitat left untouched. For the wildlife that reside there and the people who experience the same habitat.

I would call that kindness, wouldn’t you? Maybe we aren’t heroes in the headlines, but we are individuals who can do simple acts here and there. Whether it’s support a park or play a tune to cheer up a stranger’s day. These acts do create ripple effects that touch the lives of many others on down the line. It’s a lesson that’s got me thinking.

What act of kindness can I do?

Don’t discredit the power of kindness. Instead, wear it like a badge of honor. Consider doing a random act of kindness next time you’re having a bad day. It will probably cheer you up and help someone else along the way. And our communities could all use a little more help, don’t you think?

4 comments

  1. I experienced multiple acts of generosity and kindness on a solo (well, I had my dog with me) cross-country trip twenty years ago, and am grateful to this day for it. America is beautiful, and filled with beautiful people. I hope everyone can experience the best of both our natural, beautiful, wild places as well as the kind people that inhabit them.

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