I have a confession. People in uniform make me nervous.
I’m fine with a doctor’s coat or a fireman’s jacket, but put a police officer’s crisp navy shirt and peaked dress cap in front of me, and I get a little shaky. Maybe I have a deeply hidden guilty conscience. I’ve never had a bad experience with authority; it’s just that I feel like my very presence is under scrutiny once I see that badge.
I used to think maybe it was the person in the uniform, but then I became friends with a man at the gym who had kids the same age as mine. We would talk about child-rearing and pizza parlors between deadlifts.
Finding out that he was a police officer didn’t change our easy-going relationship. It just confirmed my belief that he was one of the good guys.
I don’t run into police officers all that often, so it’s not a big deal. The reason it gives me pause is because this uncomfortable feeling also happens when I cross paths with members of our Armed Forces.
Back around Veteran’s Day, I was standing in line at a sandwich shop behind two men in Army uniforms. I remember thinking, “I should really pay for their lunches.” But as I stood there working up the nerve to step up and hand my credit card to the cashier, I couldn’t do it. I chickened out. It was so scary to say something to these two strangers who fight for our country that I said nothing.
Just then, the cashier pulled out his own credit card and said, “Guys, I’m so grateful for the time you give for my freedom that today’s lunch is on me.”
Why couldn’t I have done that? What’s my problem? Sure, they have seen things I’ll never see and possess a bravery in their hearts that I may never tap into, but under the uniform, they are just people. Scared sometimes. Lonely. In need of kindness like you and me.
A man named Lee was flying from Detroit to Charlotte recently when he got a lucky break; he was upgraded to first class. In the airport, he came across a group of men in uniform. Thankfully, instead of simply thinking about what he could do to say thank you, he put his gratitude into action.
Lee’s wife tells the rest of the story.
“As Lee was getting settled, he noticed a group of basic training guys that were heading back to Fort Jackson in Columbia, South Carolina. After everyone was seated, Lee made his way to the group and asked them which one of them held the lowest rank. He then asked him to take his first class seat. Two other first class passengers followed suit.
Same airplane, different seats and lives, but that one random act of kindness hopefully made those service people’s day. I know Lee was thrilled. He will be embarrassed I shared, because he is all about being a low-key, from-the-heart, in-the-moment kind of guy. But I just can’t help it. It makes me so very proud! I am hoping by sharing this, we all take time to pay it forward, do a random act of kindness and decide to just be nice.”
Did you catch that? Once Lee gave away his first class seat, two other people did the same. Lee’s kindness was contagious. Even the flight crew was touched. Lee said he was treated to both peanuts and pretzels with a full can of Diet Coke.
The next time I’m standing in line behind a service member, in honor of Lee and the men he touched with his kindness, you can bet I’m going to be bold enough to both hand over my credit card and find the nerve to say thank you.
Please continue to share your stories of kindness with me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or send a letter to Kindness is Contagious c/o Nicole J. Phillips, The Forum, 101 5th St. N., Box 2020, Fargo, ND 58107.
Nicole J. Phillips is a former television anchor for Fox News in Fargo. She is a writer, speaker and mother of three kids. Nicole is married to Ohio University’s men’s head basketball coach Saul Phillips. Her column runs every Saturday. You can visit Nicole at nicolejphillips.com.