It was the Right Thing to Do

Our daughter Grace loves living in Portland, Oregon. She shared a place with a good friend for years and they both decided it was time for them to live on their own, so beginning January 2020 Grace moved into a great studio in a high rise building. It has been a great place to live.

About four years ago now, she bought a great bike, accessorized with the right shoes, water bottle, light, etc. and began taking really long wonderful rides. She rode the century (100 miles) to the coast with Stephanie, her former roommate, rode miles out the Columbia Gorge on more than one occasion, took other long rides with friends, rode to work many times, and rode around Portland.

Again and again we received pictures and descriptions of these great rides.

This bike became a friend, a partner in adventure.

In August her bike was stolen. She had not had it locked, but her building is secured so she thought it would be safe in the resident-only bike cage. It’s disappearance was hugely disappointing. She didn’t replace it for it had been a huge investment. She put out an online notice and photo with its serial number, but didn’t expect much of it. Her boyfriend brought her flowers, saying, “I know this won’t replace it, but wanted to do something to say how sorry I am for the loss.”

Then, last week, she got a phone call. The caller said he thought he had her bike. He had bought it at a yard sale, knew he was getting a great deal paying $300 for this quality of a bike, and took it home. But “the deal” began to bother him. He began to wonder about the yard sale, about where those items had come from. He drove back by the house. The house was vacant. The yard sale had been on the front lawn, so he had not really paid attention to the house when he had bought the bike. He wondered if the whole yard sale had been filled with stolen goods.

The thought took him to the reality: “If the bike was stolen, then I am riding someone else’s bike!” So, he began to search the internet in earnest for stolen bikes. It took him more than a month. Finally, a week ago he found Grace’s ad with the same serial number. He called.

His call came as a shock. After a full month Grace had given up on the possibility of getting her bike returned. She was thrilled. Her bike! He asked her to give him the entire serial number, just to verify it was really her. She called the bike shop where she had bought it and in a second they had the full number for her. She called him with the full number, and then went to his house to pick up the bike. She thanked him and asked him why he had done this, and he said, “It seemed like the right thing to do.” She heard his story.

Before coming for her bike, she had been thinking about his situation. He had purchased what he thought was a great deal at a yard sale, and now was giving it up. So she had already decided to pay him back for what he had paid for her bike. Had she sought to replace her bike, she would be out about 5X to 10X what he had paid. By comparison, $300 back to him was the least she could do.

He was surprised when she handed him the cash. He said, “I wasn’t expecting this.”

She again thanked him and drove away with her bike filled with bliss. Her bike was home! As she was driving, the guy called her and was feeling badly she had paid him for her own bike. She explained her reasoning and said, “It was the right thing to do.”

As she told her story, the phrase caught me.

Doing the right thing.

Don’t you wish more would choose based upon this basic standard? Had the person who took the bike started there, the bike would not have been stolen. Had the rioters in Portland taken this stance, they would have demonstrated peacefully without destroying property. On FB, trolls would be unemployed and no one would vent, abuse others for their opinions, or yell in text.

I was waiting to check out at New Seasons Market watching an elderly man through the store window. He was seated in a chair on the cement divider facing shoppers as they exited. He was tanned, dressed in old jeans and a Pendleton Wool shirt with a baseball cap. While I waited to check out, I read the sign he held “Vietnam Vet. Anything Helps.” I watched the sign drop from his hands two times. He was falling asleep in the warm sun. Each time he dropped it, he roused, picked it up, and held it again. Those exiting walked past him one after another after another.

I knew I had very little cash in my wallet, but compared to this soul, what did I need it for? I walked up, said, “Hey, here’s something. It is not much, but it is what I have.” He looked up, with deep blue eyes filled with light and love. I was meeting a brother. I said, “My name is Brian. What’s yours?”

“Steve,” he said. I asked him how he was doing, said it looked like the sun was pretty relaxing. He laughed, “Yes, taking little naps here I guess.” It was a precious moment in time. I prayed with him. “Thanks so much for stopping to talk,” Steve said before we parted, “You’ve blessed my whole day.”

I guess I never expected to meet a brother in Steve. But he and I both love and follow Jesus. It was the right thing to walk over and reach into his life. The consequence of this action was simply this, he reached into mine.

After we parted, I drove way, and continued to think about the simplicity of the moment and how enriched I was by it. And then this struck me, “What if I had not stopped?” I would be the impoverished one not Steve.

What else might change if more people just enacted the best form of love?

Domestic violence, sex trafficking, violence would end. Homelessness would become a thing of the past. No tyranny against others over race or gender or sex would continue. No fires started by arson.

Political divides which exalt one position over another would end. Certainly we would not hold all the same opinions. We would not have just one political party. But we would know the person with whom we disagree politically breathes the same air, is as human as we are, and has a story which brought them to that position. Perhaps we would be interested to hear their story.

Of course, now I sound like I’m painting some kind of utopia. Yet, really, what if each of us operated from that basic premise of doing something because it is the right thing to do. It certainly would heal much of society’s ills. But on top of that, every action has an automatic reaction. Like with me and Steve, or my daughter and the guy who returned her bike, each of us would be glowing with the benefit of having stepped out in love.

A friend of mine says, “I reach out, give, demonstrate love, and care selfishly, really. It is such a blessing to me. I receive such a boost. I do the right thing because of what I get in return.” This is a very interesting kind of selfish. In the book Resilience: The Science of Mastering Life’s Greatest Challenges, Steven M. Southwick and Dennis S. Charney explore what my friend might have been referring to:

Although we might think that selfish behavior reaps rewards and altruistic behavior requires sacrifice, brain imaging studies have shown that altruism has its own actions in the brain’s reward centers. When people give to a charity or cause they consider worthy, the nucleus accumbens lights up, releasing dopamine. This helps to explain the “helper’s high” phenomenon described by Allan Luks (1988, 1991). In a survey of 3,000 people who volunteer in various capacities, those who engage in helping said they find it “like a drug” that elicits a pleasurable physical sensation, inner warmth, an energy spike, lower levels of pain, and greater well-being (Svoboda, 2013). Another study showed that when subjects decided to give to charity, levels of the hormone oxytocin rose. Oxytocin is associated with trust and caregiving, and promotes social bonding (Moll, 2014). And, when Paul Zak and colleagues (2007) administered oxytocin to subjects, the subjects were 80 percent more generous than control subjects who received a placebo sugar pill.

Resilience: The Science of Mastering Life’s Greatest Challenges, by Steven M. Southwick and Dennis S. Charney, c. 2018, p. 102, ubp

So we get a hormonal response, and could say that is the only thing which occurs. But since whole societies are benefitted when people “do the right thing,” those actions carry more weight than a hormonal response.

Could it be we actually are enacting our part in a greater, dynamic spiritual reality?

On January 2, 2007, Wesley Autrey jumped in front of the oncoming train at the 137th Street Subway Station in New York City, laid on top of 20-year-old Cameron Hollopeter who had collapsed onto the tracks. Autrey positioned Hollopeter between the rails, laid on top of him to protect him and told him to be still. Five cars passed over the men before the braking train stopped. Neither man was injured. More occurred, however, than the saving of this man’s life. Autrey’s action was prompted simply by his admission, “I did what I felt was right.” Yet, it changed other lives as well. Every person who witnessed this event and heard about it was impacted.

When Jesus’ disciples were encouraging him to eat one day, Jesus responded he had food and drink they knew nothing about. Then when they wondered where he had gotten food, said, “My food and drink is to do the will of Him who sent me and complete his work.” See John 4:34 for the story.

Clearly, “to do the right thing” for Jesus, this time obeying all God asked, was nourishing physically and spiritually. And in this story’s instance, changed the lives of many then and though the centuries all who have read the story.

Doing the right thing brings personal joy, blesses others, and gives us a part to play in what God is doing. It is physically and spiritually nourishing.

What might it look like to simply “do the right thing” in whatever encounters your life?

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