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Joseph Walker: Radical acts of benevolence leave a warm and happy glow

Published: Sunday, Jan. 6 2013 1:52 p.m. MST

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There was something funny about my shoes.

No, not the smell. And not the clown-like length.

They were just … different somehow. Unmarked and unscuffed. Shinier, and yet darker. A deeper, richer, blacker black than they had been since they were brand new.

But how could that be?

My first thought was, of course, magic. Or, perhaps, witchcraft. Or some kind of sorcery. I was vaguely aware of the sartorial custom of shoe shining. But since I'm not a practicing sartor, I knew that I hadn't done anything to create that high-gloss shine that was looking so wonderfully dapper beaming at me from the far end of my legs. Think ruby slippers, only in a nice, shiny, size 12 black. I wanted to click my heels together three times and say, "There's no place like home!"

Instead, I called out to my wife, Anita.

"Honey, thanks for shining my shoes! They look great! Practically new! I was thinking I needed to get some new black shoes, but now. …"

"I didn't shine your black shoes," Anita said. "I didn't shine your brown shoes, either."

Wait a second. My brown shoes? I looked in the closet. A bright glow from the darkest corner confirmed Anita's report: My brown shoes were shiny enough to attract the undivided attention of a Kardashian.

Maybe. For a second or two.

"So really, thanks," I said to Anita. "My shoes look great!"

"Yes, they do," she said. "But I didn't shine them."

I looked at her, searching for telltale signs of fudging. Anita is absolutely incapable of lying, but she will fudge a bit in the interest of something she considers a greater good — like a good prank, for example. Or a secret act of service. Thirty-five years of studying this woman's face suggested she was telling the truth — but not the whole truth.

"So if you didn't shine them," I asked, "who did?'

She smiled the confident, self-satisfied smile of one who knows but won't tell.

"You wouldn't want me to betray a confidence, would you?" she asked.

Well, yes, I thought, as a matter of fact, I would. But I knew better than to expect her to do that.

So I immediately began to suspect Beth, my youngest daughter and the only other member of the immediate family who lives close enough to be able to drop by when I wasn't home to shine my shoes. The next time I saw her I made a few very subtle comments — you know, like "Did you notice how incredibly shiny my shoes are?"

She responded with a polite nod and a kindly, "Yes, Dad, very nice" in the tone usually reserved for responding to comments from preschoolers and the severely addled.

So it wasn't Beth. And it wasn't Anita. Who was it?

To be honest, I still don't know for sure. I have my suspicions — there are a couple of people in my church congregation who are known to be radically benevolent — but so far there are no clues other than two pairs of extraordinarily shiny shoes in my closet and the warm feeling that seems to wash over me every time I look at them.

That's the way it is with anonymous acts of service. I love my shiny shoes, but let's face it: They are eventually going to get dirty and scuffed again. But the memory of those shiny shoes — and what it took to get them that way — will remain with me, warming my heart forever, and inspiring me to radical acts of benevolence of my own.

Sartorially, or otherwise.

Email: jwalker@desnews.com. To read more by Joseph B. Walker, please go to www.josephbwalker.com.

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