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Quiet People, Big Impact

Some of the most admirable and influential people in my life have been those who speak quietly, oftentimes without words. They go about their business without demanding an audience to assuage their egos. They leave an impression on others, not for their loudness, but for the quiet ways they demonstrate kindness, consideration, and compassion.

No one can deny Mother Theresa’s impact in a world of both physical and spiritual poverty. Her influence extended far beyond the swilling slums of Calcutta, diffusing into our thoughts in ways that will mark the world long beyond her physical life. One of her sayings succinctly sums up her philosophy: Small things done with great love will change the world.

How easily we forget to do small things with great love. Our contemporary culture gravitates toward the brash vitriol of loudmouths conducting themselves like carnival hawkers. They get their spot on the nightly news or in viral videos. They posture and spew anger, even hatred, without thought to the consequences of such behavior. They leave us feeling wrung out or roiling with our own anger and so the tempest is perpetuated like a tsunami that gains power the further it travels.

I was fortunate to intimately know a quiet person. Her name was Alberta, and she was my mother-in-law. Alberta was whip-smart and a gifted writer, but she did not advertise either attribute; she considered it unseemly to toot one’s horn. She grew up on a subsistence farm in a day when milk was delivered to the market in tall, metal cans in the back of a wagon, and egg gathering was a daily chore assigned to children. Speaking of children, she doted on them, her face alight when holding infants and always made time to read a book to youngsters. Our three daughters frequently benefitted from her quiet ways. They were read to, taught to bake, and shown how to tend and pick flowers among many other activities. What a rich heritage!

Alberta was an expert gardener, out early in the morning before the dew had dried, weeding long rows of vegetables, or picking raspberries. Her gardens were beautified with several varieties of annuals. She claimed a garden wasn’t a garden without flowers. She cut large bouquets to take to church each week in the summer, adorning the altar with colorful posies. I wonder if the congregants ever knew how much pleasure she got from serving them in this simple gesture, or how much work it took to bring the flowers to bloom.

Doug Feavel writes about quiet people in his expository book, Stories of Uncommon Character. In it, he relates how everyday people did the extraordinary. One is amazed at the courage of these quiet heroes, and the far-reaching impact of their deeds. Stories such as Feavel pens inspire and leave us breathless in amazement. How wonderful it would be if more people of uncommon character were celebrated in a discordant world.

None of us are perfect and neither was Alberta as she would freely admit were she still alive, but it’s her acts of small things done with great love that changed the world around her and for which she will be remembered. The clanging cymbals of our times will fade, and their vain acts will sully their legacy. The quiet ones, however, will be remembered for their acts of kindness, even in large bouquets brought to church every Sunday.

In the Mountains of Colorado

Alberta Coleman Rhoads, 1945

Oh, Colorado, would that I might send

The doubters all to you. For who could lie

Beneath soft cotton clouds in azure sky

And watch a mountain river foam and bend,

Or deeply breathe the tonic made by blend

Of tall proud pines and flowers nestling by,

Or catch the hint of breeze that’s like a sigh,

Or drink in beauty jagged rocks can lend,

And towering mountains peaked with snow,

Still farther on, hills lost in purple haze -

Who, lying here thru’ hours of content

Could feel the surge of peace and fail to know

There is a power ruling all our days,

A Power omniscient and omnipotent?

Alberta Coleman Rhoads, 1945

The view from Alberta's backyard with the grape hyacinths she 'encouraged'

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