When we first came to this neighborhood some years ago I felt strange and definitely uprooted, having moved from a district in which I had lived since childhood. Then casually I began to meet my neighbors. The man next door, driving home from work, called cheery "Hello! Glad to have you with us. You can feel quite at home here." Later another neighbor close by, seeing me in the garden said: "You know, we don't do much visiting around here, but if any one gets in trouble you can count on us — we're always ready to help."
This neighborhood was different, I realized; it had an atmosphere of friendliness all its own, and I wondered why. Then slowly the reason became known to me — the little lady across the street. I first net her while watering the lawn. She calmly walked over and handed me a rose. It wasn't a mere social gesture, I knew instantly, but rather the sincere expression of a kindly heart which reached out in friendliness toward others.
She had come to this community when it was new, and as each new family moved in she took them to her heart. I do not believe that there is a house on either side of the entire street that hasn't at one time or another felt the comfort and strength of her quiet thoughtfulness. Everything is done unobtrusively, gently, and with good taste and judgment. You never feel the weight of the giver in the gift, whether it be a gift of sympathetic understanding or something more tangible. Nor is she ever too tired or too busy to reach out to others in either their joy or sorrow. She is a unifying influence also, because in the natural course of her associations she always speaks well of everyone and thereby fosters good will and a friendly attitude among the neighbors for one another.
In observing this little lady I have learned from her example more about simple, practical humanism in action than I have from most of my philosophic reading. It is not how much we take in with our minds that counts in the measure of a man, but how much we are able to give out with an understanding heart. Surely there are unlimited opportunities in this field, and certainly we all need at one time or another just this kind of help.
Whatever this individual does is done effortlessly. She never tries to be kind, she is kind and so she is merely living according to the natural habit of her character. We so often miss the mark our aspirations set before us by trying too hard, instead of setting our compass in the right direction and then letting the unfolding events of our daily lives lead us to our goal.
(From Sunrise magazine, August/September 1986; copyright © 1986 Theosophical University Press)