Every day is filled with things we could do. We could hold open a door for someone coming along behind us; we offer a kind word to someone who seems downcast. We could put aside time to prepare something for the family down the street that is grieving, or bring home someone’s favorite treat just because we were thinking of them.
These are all things we could do, not things we must do. There is no imperative for any one of them; if we omit to do them, we are guilty of neither failure nor fault. Perhaps if we fail to do all of them, we risk being discourteous, or even rude. But there is no penalty for choosing not to do any one or two of them. It is these optional acts that are all we have to offer one another as fellow human beings. That which is compulsory is no gift, only duty.
These acts of grace come into our awareness as we grow and learn, usually because our parents or mentors instruct us. Sometimes, we see others do them, possibly for our own benefit, and decide to make them part of our own practice of living.
The information age has opened for us a bewildering awareness of the range of things that we could do. I am convinced that packing a little I-love-you note into a child’s lunch was not on most people’s radar until someone showed it on television. Hints and handbooks have given way to an internet filled with suggestions and instructions. Marketing, too, has effectively insinuated into our minds thoughts of things we can offer to others, planted there by the people who make and sell them.
There are invariably folks who seem to do all of these things, or at least an astonishing array of them, and do them well. Lively touches to their homes, thoughtful words or gestures, concern expressed when no one could be expected to have noticed. Wonderful as it is to receive the benefit of their attentions, sometimes these folks can make us feel inept because we never manage to do so many things so well as they do. But we should not allow our own inability to do it all to discourage us from striving to do what we can, and what we should.
One of the great gifts of Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God, is that by taking flesh and dwelling among us, He makes it possible for us to do for Him more than we must. There are always things we could do for Him, but are not compelled to do. We can stop and pay a visit to Him in the tabernacle of some church we pass daily – but we don’t have to. We can write a little I-love-you note to Him, and put it where He will find it. We can bring flowers to His mom, or gently and affectionately reach out and touch His image whenever we pass our crucifix. We can make the effort to dress modestly and well for Him when we set out for Mass, and put aside the time for a personal thank-you in silence afterward.
Those little extra things we do for our own children, or our neighbors, are simple acts of love that bind us more closely together. Thanks be to God for giving us every day not simply what we must do, but plenty of things that we could do.