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October 22, 2018

Lucas’s Random Acts of Kindness --- Guest Post by Amy Giles, Author of THAT NIGHT


Grief is a powerful emotion and books that confront this complicated feeling are often poignant and thought-provoking. In her new release THAT NIGHT, Amy Giles tackles grief from two perspectives in an evocative story about tragedy, love and learning to heal. The year since a mass shooting shook their Queens neighborhood has played out differently for Jess and Lucas, both of whom were affected by that night in eerily similar and deeply personal ways. As Jess struggles to take care of her depressed mother and Lucas takes up boxing under the ever-watchful eye of his overprotective parents, their paths converge. They slowly become friends and then something more, learning to heal and move forward together. Amy stopped by our blog this week to share her thoughts on kindness, both in the world of THAT NIGHT and real life.

In THAT NIGHT, Jess Nolan and Lucas Rossi --- two survivors of a mass shooting at a movie theater --- are both trying to cope and heal in the aftermath of the violence that took both of their brothers and shattered their tightknit community. Set one year after the shooting, they share the same grief, but their methods of coping are different, especially for Lucas who believes the universe took the “better” Rossi brother. 

Lucas is reminded of his brother’s death every morning when he wakes up to Jason’s Corner: his empty bed, the trophies and ribbons on his shelves that their mother still dutifully dusts every week, a “shrine to her spectacular firstborn.” Jason had everything going for him, but that night when the bullets rang out in the crowded theater, Jason threw himself on top of Lucas to shield him. Lucas has to cope not just with loss, but the guilt of knowing his brother gave up his own life to save him.

Desperate for something to make him feel his life isn’t a mistake, Lucas begins a Random Acts of Kindness log, a way to put good into the world and balance the scales. As Lucas puts it, “If the randomness of my continued existence is still a huge, giant existential crisis, I hope these small acts count at least a little toward earning my continued room and board on this planet.” Some acts are common courtesies that people should just do anyway, like giving someone a seat on the subway if they obviously need it more. But every day, Lucas searches for ways to make someone else’s day a little easier, a little brighter: checking in on his elderly neighbor, bringing her trash cans in, relocating a spider outside. “I don’t ever want to take my existence for granted. Especially when Jason’s Corner reminds me every day that I’m in the universe’s debt because it took the wrong Rossi brother.”

We live in a world where the news is often fear-based, designed to frighten us so we don’t change the channel. We go on social media to connect but there’s so much conflict and unrest there too. Putting some kindness in the world is the perfect antidote to offset all the negativity and to lift our spirits and the spirits of those around us. A smile, a compliment, a good deed costs you nothing but can fill someone’s heart with joy. 

Last night, I was speaking at a teen panel at a local library. I brought a box of books with me that were much heavier than I expected. When I was leaving, someone from the library saw me struggling. He offered to carry my box to the parking lot but it felt like too big of a favor to accept from a complete stranger. He then offered to wait with my books while I pulled the car around. But it was when he told me, “Take your time, don’t worry,” that I truly felt he understood how difficult it often is to accept someone’s offer of  kindness. It’s hard enough to ask for help, so unsolicited help when we’re unaccustomed to it makes us feel we’re putting that person out, when really what we’re doing is feeding that person’s soul by allowing them to do a kindness. 

Acts of kindness have the power to improve not just someone’s day, but someone’s life. You have no idea how depleted their tanks may be that day, or what they’re going through; your act of kindness may restore their faith in their lives and in humanity. An act of kindness also gives you joy because it feels good to be kind; it’s so much easier to carry kindness around than to burn with rage. And you reap what you sow. If you put kindness into the universe, it will come back to you. Kindness is cyclical. 

So maybe Lucas is on to something. Maybe we can all start a Random Act of Kindness list. And it might catch on.