Coach’s Challenge for 6/29/09

Good day, team,

The challenge this week is about noticing and acknowledging the kindness of others. I was reminded of this virtue last weekend, after a frightening experience in which my husband and I needed emergency help. Here’s what happened.

Early Sunday morning, a nasty grass fire broke out at our ranch in the Columbia River Gorge. We were fast asleep at the time, but due to a combination of a prophetic dream, a popping sound, and my sense of smell, I awoke at 2 a.m. to discover the field across from our house ablaze. I immediately knew this was no small fire, and as my husband, David, rushed to the scene with hoses in hand, I called emergency services.

I’ve never had to call 911 before. After half a ring, a reassuring voice answered. She immediately notified the fire chief and volunteers in our tiny, unincorporated community and verified that no one was hurt. She assured me the fire crew would arrive as soon as they could.

Five minutes later, our nearest neighbor, Mike, drove up in his truck. Barely awake, he promised the fire crew was right behind him. Next came the fire chief, efficient and friendly. In a few minutes, four fire trucks barreled up the road. Then Mike’s wife, Brenda, and another friend and neighbor, Leroy, arrived. All of them were either part-time or full-time volunteers, and included retirees.

When everyone got to the fire, David was still working the hoses, trying like crazy to put out the highest flames. (Evidently, an owl had flown into an old transformer and burst into flames.) We had had 40 mile-an-hour winds earlier that day, and each time a gust of wind came up, it would ignite the embers and create a new path of fire in seconds. A fire already about 260 feet long and 50 feet wide was expanding each time the wind blew. You really don’t get a sense of how powerful flames are until you see them in action.

The firemen (and -women, I might add) turned on the big hoses, and the blaze was soon under control. The volunteers spent the next two hours digging a trench around the fire, making sure that every possible spark was out, and then went back with an infrared camera to make sure there were no embers lurking under the soil.

I stood at the edge of the field and looked out at the seven volunteers spread across our field in their yellow fire suits, each with a shovel in hand, working feverishly to put out the remaining remnants of fire. Thick smoke burned their eyes and, I imagine, parched their throats. At times, all I could see were the lights from their headlamps through the smoke and ash lighting up small patches of burnt earth, as they worked with great concentration and determination to save our field. Someone mentioned to me that our fire chief makes $500 a month to do his job and, of course, the volunteers don’t make a thing. I was in awe of these selfless folks from our little community who were helping out people they had never met before.

When they were done, we shook the volunteers’ hands and hugged our neighbors. Big smiles broke out on their grimy faces as they remarked variously, “It’s nothing. Just glad it didn’t jump the road”; “Could have been worse. It’s still the start of summer, lots of green on the ground”; “Glad you were here”; “Good thing you’re a light sleeper.”

As they drove away, I had tears in my eyes, and my heart was full from the display of kindness I had just experienced. I will never forget what each of those wonderful people did for us in the early hours of that summer morning, for no reward other than to be here when we needed them.

Last week, I tried to acknowledge any act of kindness I observed. When someone at a restaurant held the door open for a bunch of us as we passed through the doorway, I stopped and told him how much I appreciated it. At the grocery store, as a woman turned sharply, her purse hit the avocados, and they came tumbling down. People in the produce section bent to help her pick them up. I joined in, and we all smiled as we restacked the avocados. Later in the week, I noticed that a young man stopped and parked his bike to help an old woman in a wheelchair cross the road. I gave him a thumbs up as I passed by.

Your challenge this week is to do the same. Try seeing the acts of kindness that are going on around you and take a moment to let people know how great it is that they are performing these acts. It doesn’t have to be verbal: It can be a smile, a wave, a wink or even a high five. You don’t have to worry about the right thing to do; believe me, the right response will come.

If you want to contribute a couple of good deeds yourself, feel free. It’s amazing how good it feels to help someone on the spur of the moment. When they look you in the eye and give you a heartfelt thanks, remember how good it feels to receive help when you’re in need.

Have a good week.

Kathleen

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