In an earlier century there was the concept of the ‘beau geste’. This was defined as a gesture made with no thought of reward or return. It needed not be a thing of magnificence; just an action done with no fanfare that somehow made someone’s life a little better. In the 1800’s it might involve stepping aside so that your friend could marry the girl. In today’s parlance, it may be paying for the lunch of a healthcare worker.
There are depths of pleasures in a gesture of this sort. Besides the satisfaction of knowing you have done a little something for someone – the “random act of kindness” – there is also a bittersweet pang in knowing that your gesture may never be discovered. Sometimes humans like to feel the ache of being overlooked. The longing hurt of unrequited love gives sweetness to the one that is finally consummated.
There is another kind of gesture that can fill the heart with longing. It is the gesture unmade. I think that many humans have generous souls, but the realities of life may force us to avoid showing them either from inconvenience or from diffidence.
Not long ago, just before a Valentine’s Day, I had given in to the temptation of buying a dozen succulent chocolate-dipped strawberries for my wife. Now she loves chocolate and strawberries, but no one needs twelve of the delightful confections. On the way home from the store, I walked near to but not quite past a bus stop where two homeless people were sitting in conversation. It was a beautiful day and they seemed content – pleasantly wiling away their shared destitution. My heart sang out to me to share my candies with them. What were strawberries to us? But what a sweet, simple and pleasant gesture it would have been – a true beau geste.
I didn’t do it. Shyness and the untimely arrival of a bus stole my organic opportunity and if I had doubled back to them, the action would have felt forced and unnatural. But those were just excuses. The gesture died unmade and I regret its passing.
Unmade gestures may make great stories. We only need to read Dickens’s A Christmas Carol to see the renewing strength of regret and repentance. But it in the real world, especially a world as fraught as this one is currently, it is always better to complete the small deed. I urge you to give away your strawberries, for the good of others if not for your own peace of mind.