Bella English

Acts of kindness, small and large, surround us

My family has been the recipient of so many acts of kindness, most recently when my husband underwent knee replacement surgery during this month’s storm of the century. At 8:30 p.m. the night of his surgery, I heard a snow blower in our driveway. It was our friend Keith who had come right from work to plow me out.

When our daughter was injured in a scooter accident in the middle-of-nowhere Thailand last year, friends and strangers helped until she could get back to the States for medical treatment. A fellow teacher in Megan’s school on the Thai-Burma border knew that Megan had a hard time stomaching the rice and fish paste the school served. So she sent to town to buy special food for Megan, at a dollar a pop. It sounds cheap, but not when you earn $100 a month.

“She had no money,” Megan says. “And she refused to take my money.” Likewise, when their students, most of them orphans, heard about a fire at a nearby refugee camp, they took up a collection of their own meager clothes to send over.


When I had a bicycle accident three years ago, strangers picked me up off the street, called an ambulance, and took my bike home. That was only the beginning. Lots of Globe readers — strangers to me — sent advice and best wishes. (Lisa Connolly from Lynn, your letter is still taped to my computer. Many thanks!)

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I started asking around, and everyone has at least one such story to share. When my husband’s visiting nurse, Patty, came over, she said that two years ago, she bought a home in Abington. Patty Sheekey is single, and during every storm — and there have been about 519 of them the past couple of years — her neighbor shows up with his snow blower and clears her driveway.

Sheekey herself has committed what I consider an act of kindness. She already had three dogs but found room for one more, a rescue named Rosie who needed a “forever home.”

The best acts are those done anonymously, with no expectation of thanks or even acknowledgement. It’s like the folks at the drive-through at Dunkin’ Donuts who pay the cashier for the car behind theirs, too.

Pam Ryan was shopping at the Dollar Tree in Hanover during the Christmas holidays, buying 40 vases for the post-funeral reception for Marine Sergeant Danny Vasselian, who was killed in Afghanistan on Dec. 23 last year. The cashier asked whether she was having a bridal shower or some other type of party. Pam told her the vases were for the fallen Marine’s funeral. A man overheard the conversation and insisted on paying for the vases. He has a brother in the military.


Last September, 26-year-old Matthew Coombs of Abington went to a bar near Fenway Park with a friend to watch the Red Sox clinch the pennant race against Detroit. Amid the celebration afterward, Matt spotted a homeless man on the street, ducked into a store and bought bread, peanut butter, and Gatorade and gave it to the guy with a hearty, “Happy World Series!” Matt didn’t tell me this story; his mother did.

There were so many acts of kindness and heroics following the Boston Marathon bombings last year, and by now we know many of them. The strangers who went toward, not away, from the explosions, who tied hand-fashioned tourniquets around shattered limbs, who stayed with the wounded, who raised money for The One Fund to help victims and their families.

Leah Ammon of Southborough organized a road race in her town and raised several thousand dollars for The One Fund. This year, she is running the Marathon to raise money for the Jeffrey Coombs Memorial Foundation, in honor of the Abington man who lost his life on 9/11. The foundation supports enrichment programs in Abington public schools, awards scholarships, and assists families who need financial help because of a death, illness, or other challenge.

My daughter’s friend Annie Hirschhorn has been overwhelmed by the kindness people have shown her since she tore her Achilles’ tendon playing soccer, and then re-tore it after slipping on ice — and dislocated her shoulder at the same time. She has been in one of those heavy surgical boots for nearly five months, and was also on crutches and in a sling until recently.

Annie, who lives in Cambridge, relies on public transportation, and shortly after her injury she was headed for the T on crutches, about a 10-minute walk. But she got no more than a block when a car pulled in front of her. “This woman had just worked a night shift as a nurse and she said, ‘Where are you going? You can’t be walking like that.’ And she gave me a ride,” Annie says.


“People have driven me to appointments, and done so much,” she adds. “It’s been the big silver lining, that’s for sure.”

The best acts are those done anonymously, with no expectation of thanks or even acknowledgement.

Another time, she was going down an escalator and a man offered to help her. “Could you take one of my crutches?” she asked. He did.

For some reason, this story reminds me of when I was 12 years old and accompanying my mother through Grand Central Station to catch a train to Florida. Wigs were big back then, and my mother had hers in a black hat box with a handle top, clasps on the side. We were at the top of an escalator when the box popped open and there went my mother’s wig on its white Styrofoam head, bouncing off each step.

Being an adolescent, I was mortified. After several bounces and lots of giggles from bystanders, a man snagged the runaway wig and returned it to my mother. He even kept a straight face.

My friend Linda recently lost her husband after a long illness. While he was sick, the couple’s Newton temple started a meal rotation. “The people who sent meals on a regular basis were people I didn’t even know,” says Linda.

The day after her husband died, as out-of-town relatives were about to arrive, someone left two large loaves of challah on her doorstep. Someone else put some candy through her mail slot, and one snowy day, someone made her a pot of soup.

“It was a long and lonely road, and I could not do it alone,” says Linda. “I was carried for two and a half years by people who just kept giving and giving and giving.”

If you’ve been the recipient or have witnessed — or done — some small, or large, act of kindness, I’d love to hear about it and share the stories as a bright spot in a bleak winter. Consider it an act of kindness!

Bella English lives in Milton. She can be reached at