“Your own soul is nourished when you radiate kindness." ~ Proverbs 11:17
Henry Ellis was a man of routine.
Each morning, Ellis left the ‘Eddy’ – an inexpensive flop house for the poor with nowhere else to live, and walked six blocks to the Waveland Cafe for breakfast. He perched himself on his favorite counter stool every day. The diner’s employees always knew his order - an egg sandwich with a half order of french-fries and 3 Cokes.
To them, he was part of the family. They knew him by name but mostly referred to him as “Gentle Giant.” He’d usually make a bit of a mess so they knew to provide extra napkins. As one of their most beloved customers, they enjoyed his daily visits. And he loved the camaraderie.
When the old man would describe his life, locals were instantly transported to another place and time. His voice was slow and he stumbled on his words. Sometimes he’d be overwhelmed by emotions and would pause to collect himself, recalling memories that’d been buried for decades.
At times he’d appeared excited to weave a tale. Other times he seemed to be honoring a solemn duty to remember the past. After speaking for a time he’d often nod off into a little catnap, seemingly exhausted from the energy required recalling bygone days.
"Our paths crossed almost every day,” remarked Carole his favorite waitress. "He had a great heart. If there was ever a break in his routine, I’d be sure to ask the rascal what he’d gotten into. He’d pause, and give some random reason, but mostly it was my way of letting him know that he had a following of people who cared about him."
But his routine was tragically broken when the deadliest Des Moines fire in a decade took the 71-year-old's life. His absence was instantly noticed. The Waveland Café staff and other regulars mourned his death, but nothing could fill the seat that remained empty.
But they found a sweet way to remember their “Gentle Giant.” They set up a makeshift memorial in his honor, leaving a cup of coffee, sugar and extra napkins for him as if they were still serving him. They also left a note, his photo, and a flower on the counter across from Henry’s stool. Regulars donated money to cover the funeral expenses of the other fire victims too.
“Although he’d never walk through that door again,” Carole added tearfully, “We wanted everyone to know how much he meant to us and that he’d surely be missed.”
Such a simple gesture … but a powerful message.
Like the ripples radiating from a pebble dropped in a pond, kindness pulses out after each of our actions and has a contagious effect on those around us. Make somebody smile today, it’s so worth the effort.
Dear God, if I can’t be brilliant, let me be kind. If I can’t change the world, let me inspire just one other to do so. If I can’t give away riches, let me be loving. Amen