LESTER: Quarantine provides an opportunity for intentional kindness

October 13, 2020

Working at Chick-Fil-A in Sawyer Heights, life is not easy. The lines lap the restaurant — whether they seem quick or slow — and yet people still wait for their chicken meal six days a week.

One evening after work, on my jog at Hermann Park, I had a conversation with my favorite popsicle guy while I was stretching. As conversations go, we talked about his start-up in selling hand-crafted popsicles, our lives and hobbies. I told him about how I was let go from the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston — thankfully Chick-Fil-A hired me — and he spoke about how his business is slow with less people at the park. When I told him which location I worked at, he immediately knew and commented on how crazy those lines are. Truthfully, all I thought to say was, “oh yeah, we love you guys!” Then, we parted, and I began my run.

During my runs, I take my struggles and blessings to prayer, and that interaction stuck out to me. Gradually, I began thinking about the lasting impressions that I leave on any-and-everyone that I share my paths with. Even in the quickest interactions — lasting only a few seconds — that smile through the facemask or a joyous greeting shares how much we all matter to one another.

In reflecting on the pandemic, Pope Francis invites us to, “rediscover the concreteness of little things, small gestures of attention we can offer those close to us, our family, our friends. We must understand that in small things lies our treasure.” When we seek to live freely, these opportunities for intentional kindness radiate those simple gestures and reveal the bountiful treasure in these moments that Pope Francis asks us to revitalize.

St. Catherine of Siena, a lay member of the Dominican Order in the 14th Century, may help us with learning how to live freely for these intentional moments. In a beautiful discussion on her ideas of freedom, Father Paul Murray summarizes her view:

“In this age, as in every age, freedom is not free until it opens itself up to a vision or a cause or a belief beyond itself. Freedom is not free until it serves.” (Murray p. 38)

See, when we are concerned with ourselves, many people throughout history and I will guarantee receiving pleasure, for sure, but will it amount to freedom? Instead, seeking to love and serve others in this isolating time is what people like St. Catherine of Siena seem to be nudging us towards.

“When we do this,” they seem to be saying, “we allow love to enter and radiate through us in those quick, yet intentional moments.” Ultimately, presenting ourselves as an intentional gift in these quick and simple interactions serves not only them but us, too.

Approaching people intentionally does not have to be with parades and fireworks.

The cri de cœur (our most inner desire of the heart) is to be loved and cared for. If we center our life around love, then freedom and intentionality will flow blissfully into our interactions — blooming flowers in people who are withering away by leading them towards this same all-abiding love. 

Matthew Lester, an active member of the University of Houston’s Catholic Student Organization, is a junior studying English, philosophy and education.