Doing Good By Stealth

I was accompanying Bill to an appointment with his Cough Doctor. As is my wont/want, I brought along my present project of needlework. I don’t relish sitting empty-handed doing nothing. (When we go to friends’ for dinner, it’s a selfless act of good manners that I don’t bring along my knitting/needlepoint–that would imply the conversation leaves me wanting. And/or I’m easily bored. Don’t want to think about it. Heaven preserve me from being rude.)

Bill sat down on the doctor’s examining couch, I in a nearby chair. I zipped open the pretty needlework case, reached for my reading glasses…

Oh no. Oh no, not again! The stems of my glasses had slipped out of the loops of their leather strand that hung around my neck. Happens often. I looked down at the floor. No glasses. Squidgled around in my chair poking here and there seeking them. Nope. They’re just 3.25 magnifiers, no costly prescription lenses, but now I was deprived of my comforting needlepoint.

Damn. Good wife that I am, I said nothing to Bill. The doctor came in, Bill told him he was fine, they chatted about the recent Dolphins’ game–both are Miami fans–and that was that. I’d been spared the frustration of sitting empty-handed for long minutes.

We took the elevator to street level, our car was parked directly in front of the entrance (we have the mercy of a handicapped placard for parking–this slice of blue plastic I cherish as much as any gold, silver, or pearls in my keeping). I pressed on ahead to the car, opened the driver’s-side door (my darling Bill with his macular situation no longer can drive), and looked and looked on the seat, on the floor, beneath the seat, so hoping my glasses were there. They have been a couple of times.

Nope again.

“Sweetheart,” I said, “okay if we stop at Horsnyder’s on the way home so I can buy a pair of glasses?–my last pair just slipped off…” Assent, of course, from my husband.

It had been drizzling, so after starting the ignition, I turned on the windshield wiper to clear the rain-dappled glass. It made a ratchety sound. “Heavens, what now?!” Instantly turned off the wiper.

I couldn’t see what the problem was, so I got out and, peering across the windshield, saw what made the sound. Resting against the windshield in the center of the hood cozily tucked down and out of sight were my glasses!

Clearly as I got out of the car they’d fallen onto the tarmac. Some kind soul saw them–maybe even observed Bill and me pressing toward the office building–picked them up, deftly placed them where the driver couldn’t miss them, but wouldn’t be obvious to anyone who wasn’t above nabbing a “lost” pair of glasses.

Got back in the car, showed them to Bill, saying, “Good by stealth.”

“It was.”

One of my favorite phrases. Doing good by stealth.

I learned it a couple of decades ago when I was involved with Alcoholics Anonymous. At my first meeting I was handed a leaflet that had a list of what one should do each day to–what?–lighten one’s burden I guess. On that list was a notion that struck me with its goodness, caring, sense of community, grasp of human nature:

“Try to make it your practice every day to do one good deed by stealth. If you do it but then tell someone you did it, it doesn’t count.”

Ever since I’ve tried to do small nonessential things. On our walks, for example, I find myself pulling weeds from a vacation-cottage’s garden…a realtor’s sign kept falling off its post, I’d hang it back up…in messy Ladies’ Rooms, I take a paper towel and pick up fallen bits and pieces (to my mind, that stealth gets double brownie points). If I know a neighbor’s out of town and notice they forgot to cancel newspaper delivery, I tuck the papers in their mailbox so it won’t be a giveaway no one’s home.

Once there was a very long earthworm painfully inching its way across the rough dry sidewalk…as much as I love what worms do, I was not given the gift of being able to handle their slimy selves. Unfortunately Bill wasn’t able to see it well enough to pick it up. After about twenty minutes of trying with big leaves and delicate sticks to lift it, one of the neighbors on our walk (he has a darling chocolate Lab) came by with his Lab and I asked him if he would do it… Instanter.

Finally, last month there was, ugh, a black pair of men’s I think they’re called briefs thrown into the weedy front yard of a vacation rental (fronting on the ocean, it must cost a bundle). I could not bring myself to pick it up…it drove me nuts for a long week. I pointed it out to Bill, who naturally said, “Don’t you dare touch it!” Finally one Saturday morning a new renter was unloading his Mercedes in the driveway and I said, “Hi, welcome, what a lovely house–you know, if you wouldn’t mind, someone left a pair of…” The next day they were gone. Not exactly by stealth.

Anyway, after all these years it was a delicious moment there in the medical building parking lot, being the recipient of another’s doing good by stealth–a kindred spirit. First time that I know of. Ah, clearly it could have happened to me before but I wouldn’t have known it because, of course, it was done by stealth!

Kind of a nice idea, yes? No, not kind of. It is an illuminating idea.

I wouldn’t be surprised if you haven’t been doing it already…


11 Comments. Leave new

  • I have done it, but definitely not daily. That would be an interesting practice. Thank you for these thoughts, although you are wrong wrong wrong about earthworms. They are absolutely NOT slimy. They are cool to the touch, but no slime. None. Not any. Snails are slimy, so they do us the service of carrying around shells so we don’t have to deal with their slime. But not earthworms. Not even a little bit.

  • David Thompson
    January 29, 2024 10:20 pm

    I prefer the word “anonymous.”


  • I live by this. A while ago, I spoke to someone about a good done for another person. I instantly wished that I had not shared the experience. In general, these acts shall be not be uttered.

  • Barbie Ferguson
    January 31, 2024 1:00 pm

    Love this Sylvia! I’m going to practice stealth.

  • This is a related practice to “pay it forward” actions. Doing good when no one is watching just because it is right and good and kind of commonsensical really. I also think if each of us made it a (fun) practice to look for scraps/ trash on the beach or street and take just one or more pieces away every day, we’d all benefit greatly. It’s a stealth action and it just feel satisfying.


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