"Chivalry is being the godsent friend or stranger
in a story that goes, 'I don't know what I would
have done if she hadn't shown up.' "

"I was impressed that he'd made it down the stairs and onto the subway, this diminutive man of some years, obviously in the advanced stages of both arthritis and osteoporosis. On the crowded rush-hour train, he reached for the bar with a misshapen hand and I, also standing, was aghast that no one occupying a seat offered it to him. Just before the car lurched forward, another man, looking to be over seventy himself, arose so his elder could sit.

"Now, I grew up on fairy tales and movie musicals. They taught me to expect a world populated with heroes and fairy godmothers, with men dedicated to righting unrightable wrongs and women capable of climbing every mountain. That evening on the train, the only valiant figure had white hair and bifocals, evidence of the fact that chivalry is an endangered quality.

"Because it is one tall order to live a charmed life in an uncharming culture, it's up to each of us to bring back chivalry, updated for our times. Today's 'knight in shining armor' can be male or female, and the 'damsel in distress' could be a child or an animal, a man or a woman. In day-to-day affairs, this means allowing yourself to see a need when one exists and, if you're capable, stepping up to meet it.

"You don't have to fight in duels or scale enchanted towers. How about stopping to help someone whose grocery bag breaks, or the embarrassed fellow shopper who's just knocked over a towering display of bathroom tissue? Or talking to the bored little boy in the post-office line while his mother chats on her cell phone? Or giving a hand to the stranded motorist trying to change a flat? (If you can't change a tire, here's an assignment: learn this simple skill within the next seven days. You cannot be chivalrous in this day and age without knowing what to do with a lug nut.)

"Reduced to its fundamentals, chivalry is being the godsent friend or stranger in a story that goes, 'I don't know what I would have done if she hadn't shown up.' It's a way to change the world for the better, one kind act at a time. This contributes to exalted living, because it heightens the meaning of your days and the impact of your time on earth. And it charms the lives of other people, many of whom may see very little magic and wonder in their quotidian affairs.

"To bring this full circle, learn also to accept the chivalrous offerings of others. On that train, I thought back to the few times in the past when someone had offered me a seat and I'd responded with a self-sufficient, 'Oh, no, I'm fine.' I was fine, but no one enjoys having a kindness rebuffed. Perhaps if I — and everyone else who had ever said, 'Oh, no, I'm fine' in this situation — had instead smiled, said thank you, and accepted the seat, one of those erstwhile knights would have more readily come to the elderly gentleman's aid.

"Finally, take the time to encourage acts of chivalry in your children and grandchildren. It may be a lost art, but there's no reason we can't find it, reinstate it, and make it the norm. We may not help anybody to 'happily ever after,' but 'happily all afternoon' is something I think we can do."

Lucky Charm

Be on the lookout for opportunities to save the day, even in so small a way as being the one to provide a tissue or a pen. Do this routinely until chivalry becomes second nature.