By Andrew Purchase
My cousin is a doctor. She works with some of the saddest stories in the world: little children who innocently contract HIV/Aids from their parents.
Some of her patients endure a nasty, brutish and short life - marred by poverty and sickness.
One day an elderly grandmother entered her clinic. In South Africa, it is often the grandparents who rear the sick babies because the mothers have already died of the disease.
It was 1pm - one hour after the 12pm clinic closing time. Granny knew the rules. How inconsiderate to be late.
Not only was Granny late, but she was alone.
The clinic rules were abundantly clear: the child has to accompany the caregiver to the consultation to receive the treatment in person.
My cousin, already grumped out by the long night shift, offered a rude greeting. Not understanding Granny's dialect, she called for an interpreter. This is what she learnt:
Granny lived alone with the four-year-old child in a small hut. Her daughter had died from an HIV/Aids-related illness just after the child was born.
Granny had never met the child's father. His only contribution to the child's fate was to have mistakenly put the wrong name on the child's birth certificate.
In the eyes of the government Social Grant Office, birth certificates can never be wrong. Wrongly named children are simply fraudulent. They can never receive a grant.
At the end of every month Granny had no money for food. She took to growing vegetables to feed the four-year-old.
However, last month, Granny was in hospital. A goat ate her crops. The four-year-old orphan had been passed to the care of Granny's 80-something mother, the child's great-grandmother, when Granny was in hospital.
Too sick herself to care for the child, the great-grandmother had solicited the help of an 11-year-old child to care for Granny's orphan.
"So where is your four-year-old grandson now?" my cousin asked.
Granny apologised profusely, and not without shame.
"There is no money for taxi and I have terrible arthritis. I left home at 4am to walk here. I am sorry, Doctor. I did not have strength to carry him for all eight hours of the walk. I left him at home."
My cousin fought back the lump in her throat by side-tracking herself with the child's medical file.
Granny had not missed a single consultation. The child had received every dose from the clinic. His viral load was down and he was gaining weight beautifully.
Thanks be to Granny, the child was being healed.
Granny had brought the child every month for every scheduled appointment. Except on that day.
What incredible commitment and sacrifice.
As Granny left my cousin's cubicle to collect the medicine, my cousin slipped her a bank note. She could not bear thinking about Granny having to do the eight-hour walk home.
That in itself is a remarkable story.
But it gets better.
Making a splash
My cousin sent the story of Granny to the national newspaper. Evidently touched by the story, the paper published it.
At the end of the article, on his own initiative, the editor of the newspaper included a one line sentence: "If you would like to donate to Granny send the money to XYZ bank account and we'll get the money to Dr Purchase to give to her."
An amount just under $10,000 came in - enough for 3,000 taxi trips to the clinic.
My cousin threw a pebble into a pond. It wasn't a big pebble. But unwittingly, she caused a chain reaction that will leave that family enriched and bettered forever.
One of the properties of kindness is its ability to reproduce itself.
All around us still ponds wait for our small pebbles. Kindness begets kindness. People are inspired by examples of kindness.
Kindness is possibly the only renewable energy source in our world - the more you expend it, the more it grows. It feeds on itself to get stronger and bigger.
Perhaps that example of kindness in faraway Africa ripples still as you read this. Perhaps that far-off act of kindness will cause you to lob a pebble in someone's pond near to you.
That's the thing about the ripples of kindness. You never can tell where they will end up.
Andrew Purchase has been a lawyer, academic, PR consultant and pastor. His aspiration for low-level sporting glory was thwarted by a bad shoulder, so he now serves up English lessons and witty one-liners in his blog.