Heartland

Random Acts of Hope


| Utne Reader January / February 2007



Years ago, when my now 21-year-old son Oliver was in fourth grade, I took him to some long-forgotten appointment in the middle of the school day. His wise teacher suggested that, rather than rush back to school after the appointment, I take Oliver out to eat. After lunch, we came across a mother duck and a mess of ducklings frantically circling a concrete cul-de-sac several blocks from the nearest lake. So, embarking on our own Make Way for Ducklings adventure, we escorted the family back to water. On the way we encountered all sorts of challenges-barking dogs, high walls, cats, busy streets-and had to work together closely to succeed in our mission.

It was one of my finer moments as a mother and remains among Oliver's fondest memories: 'doing God's work,' as he jokes.

Arriving at the water's edge, we faced one final challenge-a strong headwind causing daunting waves. Mother duck plunged in, while her progeny agitated on the sand. Finally one brave duckling stepped up, biding time like a jump roper waiting for the right moment, and plopped in; the rest followed, one by one.

Oliver and I headed back to school, flush with pride at our accomplishment. The final cinematic moment came when we looked up, and there, on a billboard, was this maxim: Commit Random Acts of Kindness.

I thought of this story while I was taking in the 17th annual Bioneers conference. Bioneers, which was founded in 1990, is a gathering of scientific and social innovators who present visionary, practical, and proven models for restoring the earth and its communities. The event is now broadcast via satellite to 18 locations, reaching more than 12,000 people, and each of the sites melds national and local programming. I attended the East Coast Bioneers-by-the-Bay in Dartmouth, Massachusetts.

I heard pagan author and National Public Radio host Margot Adler talk about how religions are based on what people believe, while customs and culture that have evolved from pagan and tribal roots are based on place and on practices connected with agriculture or initiation or healing. The gods or higher powers are local, not universal, so there is no point to proselytizing. (Author and entrepreneur Paul Hawken put a similar idea elegantly: 'All ideologies lead to 'isms' and all 'isms' lead to schisms.')