There’s a saying that an investment in kindness brings happiness in return. Recently, I came across a story that shows just how true that is and I wanted to share it with you because today, February 17th, is Random Acts of Kindness Day.
Rewind back to 2007. A young man named Claybourne Elder was standing awkwardly in the rear of a theater on Broadway, straining to catch as much of the award-winning musical he’d traveled so far to see. Elder was an aspiring stage actor, but having come all the way from Springville, Utah, he was virtually unknown and had barely any money.
Little did he know that a random act of kindness was about to change his life.
As the play ended and the audience filed out, a man passed Elder, then stopped. “Are you from out of town?” the man asked.1 “Yeah, I’m just here visiting,” Elder replied. The man pulled out his wallet and handed Elder $200. “You looked like you were having more fun than the people in the expensive seats,” he said. “Go buy yourself a ticket to ‘Sweeney Todd’ tomorrow.”
Stunned, Elder took the money, as well as a photo of the strange benefactor. But he never caught the man’s name. The next day, Elder debated what to do with this sudden windfall. Many possibilities crossed his mind, but he reminded himself that he’d come to New York to see Broadway. And when it comes to Broadway, there are few acts bigger than Sweeney Todd. After all, the musical was written by the legendary Stephen Sondheim and had won a Tony Award.
Elder had never seen the show before, and when he found it was starring the equally legendary actress Patti LuPone, his decision was made. “That did not seem real [to me],” Elder later recalled. “Patti LuPone…she seemed like a person
you read about in a book or heard about somewhere, not someone you saw perform. Not for a kid from Utah.” So, Elder brought a prime seat and enjoyed one of the best nights of his life.
Now fast forward to today. Elder is still watching Patti…but not from a seat. From the stage. You read that right. Elder and LuPone are co-stars in the same hit musical on Broadway! Elder has come a long way from Springville, Utah, but he never forgot that random act of kindness. In his words, “It takes that kind of generosity to show you what generosity can be, to turn around and do it again.” As soon as he was able, Elder started paying for a stranger’s meal at a local diner at least once each month. And since becoming a big Broadway star, he’s given away free tickets to each of his shows.
Recently, Elder was finally able to track down the man who helped send him down his journey. The stranger’s name was Mark Howell, a Californian who was also “just visiting.” The two met over Zoom, where Elder was finally able to tell Howell what his random act of kindness meant. “The minute he said [the name of the musical,], it all came back…that night, the whole experience,” Howell later said. “It’s been really inspiring and overwhelming. It still makes me cry.” But not just because he helped a young man find success. But because he helped a young man become a good man. “You had no idea that what you did was so much more than that. [It] made me a person who is kinder because of what you did,” Elder told him.
The kind of person who buys tickets for strangers, then takes a photo with them that he can hang in his dressing room ever after. Because who knows? One of those strangers might be the next Claybourne Elder. “I hope that it awakens something in them, just like it did in me…the power to actually touch someone, to change someone’s life with a small gesture,” Elder says. “What I hope happens is that these people are shown some sort of genuine kindness from a stranger and hopefully, in turn, go out and do something strange and kind for somebody who they don’t know.”
One of the reasons this story made such an impression on me is because February 17th is Random Acts of Kindness Day. This year, I hope we all can make an effort to perform just such an act. We may not know who exactly we’re helping, or what the outcome will be. But one thing’s for certain: When we make an investment in kindness, happiness is the inevitable return. For them, for us,
and for the entire world.
I hope you have a wonderful month!
1“Broadway star reunites with a stranger who gave him free tickets to a show 15 years ago,” CBS News, February 2, 2022.