On exploring the path of kindness
“I can wait,” the man replied, “but thank you, I appreciate that.”
I nodded at him and moved on. I’d watched him hobble up to the wooden chair from my spot in the Credit Union queue, and I’d noted every person who passed by without so much as a glance down at him. He held himself rigidly, and I debated about what I should do, then wanted to kick myself for debating. I leaned forward and made the offer for him to skip ahead of me. My heart thunked and I could feel the eyes of all the people waiting behind me, and I wondered if they’d be annoyed at me. And in the end none of that mattered. He continued to wait his turn, and I went up to the teller.
Nothing had changed, outwardly, but he'd looked me in the eye and I’d looked into his and there’d been another one of those moments, the ones I’d been collecting for the past two hundred or so days. I secreted this moment away in one of my mental vaults, much like a magpie lining its nest with shiny, valueless junk.
Perspective is a funny thing.
At the start of the year I’d made a promise to myself. Instead of another resolution in which I attempted to give up a thing and quit after a miserable month, this year I was going to try something different.
I’m not a naturally sociable person — while not the tight-lipped kid I used to be, I still find it difficult to talk to people I don’t know. Striking up a conversation with a stranger lists near the top of things I’d genuinely rather not attempt.
Last Christmas we played a Disney card game, a 'which character are you’ thing, and I got Maleficent. You know, the evil fairy who isn’t exactly known for revelling in the company of other people. I tried not to take the result too personally.
But it got me to thinking.
How exactly could I challenge that part of myself, the part that preferred to look the other way, to not get involved. How could I learn to lean into the discomfort of approaching people and potentially doing or saying the wrong thing? The answer eventually rubber-stamped itself into my mind.
Whenever you have the option to either do nothing or do something, you’re going to do something. Something kind.
Even if the thought of doing something made me uncomfortable. Even if it seemed unnecessary. Even if I was afraid.
And so I began the year.
I decided to start small, and from a safe distance. My first act? I paid for the car behind me at the motorway toll. Then I slammed the pedal Formula 1 style, scraping my ever-abused Golf under the lifting barrier, while praying to God my laggy turbo engine would kick in already. I certainly didn’t want to deal with any aftermath — I wanted to do the thing and get the hell out of Dodge.
On another journey, an SUV decided to give chase, and the woman behind the wheel dogged my tail at just over the speed limit. When she pulled alongside and stayed there, I risked a quick glance. She grinned, waved, then sped out of sight.
It was awkward, my cheeks were stinging red, and the moment went straight into the vault.
Bit by tiny bit I got more comfortable. One day I let a man with deep purple shadows under his eyes skip me in the Aldi queue. In passing his face lit up, he looked down at my shoes, winked, and told me "cool socks" and it was so out of left field I could only blink twice before he turned away.
He paid for his things while chatting to the cashier, a shiny headed gentleman with a hawkish nose, invisible brows, and soulful brown eyes. He squinted over at me suspiciously. My heart began to thump.
After scanning my things, he cleared his throat and volunteered some information.
“My friend I speak to there, he just got off the night shift.”
And then he smiled at me, teeth gleaming in the fluorescent light. I handed him the money I owed and he handed me back more than he should have. I tried to correct him but his laser-beam smile persisted. I floated away, my head somewhere up the clouds, my own smile probably mirroring in intensity the one I’d just received.
My vault quickly began to fill up.
It hasn’t always been easy. More times than not I’ve agonised over taking action.
One of my more challenging moments came when I found a wasp in the garage, struggling in a haze of spider webs. I happened to know the gigantic fiend of an arachnid who lived there - we had an uneasy truce. I knew the wasp was in for a bad time. Now, I hate wasps. I hate their vindictive natures, their terror inducing buzz (somehow different to that of a bee). I even hate their yellowness.
And here was another choice.
It would have been so, so easy to waltz right back out of there and let nature do its thing. But some annoyingly loud part of me insisted that hate doesn’t rank higher than kindness. So I sweated and sweared and coerced the angry little beast into a jam jar, and sent him off into the air with a muttered curse on his entire race.
Into the vault that one went, begrudgingly.
The funny thing about choosing kindness in your life is you suddenly start to attract opportunities to practice it by the truck-load.
Just today I set out with the intention of gifting someone some spare tickets I had no need for. Not an hour later, a lady in the gym struck up a conversation with me and she happened to mention she was going to the event. She sighed, saying her sister hadn't been able to buy tickets and now they were sold out. I could only laugh in disbelief.
The universe works in mysterious ways for sure.
I've been humbled too, by the kindness of strangers.
I cried silent tears all the way home after a homeless man gave me the change I happened to need. This man had given me two euro from his paper cup, the cup that was three-quarters empty.
When I tried to find him later, to pay him back and give him some food, he’d disappeared. I cried again.
I couldn’t stop thinking about how it’s not the amount or the size of the thing you can give or do, acts of kindness are about those feelings you can bring about in the person on the other end.
Feelings of gratitude and joy. Feeling a genuine connection. And feeling oneself seen in a world that very often doesn’t.
Most of all it’s about hope.
And my hope is that you, too, every now and then, will come to a fork in the road and take pause. Maybe you'll choose to take the path of kindness, to do the smallest thing, to reach out, to connect.
Even if it makes you uncomfortable. Even if it seems unnecessary.
And even if you’re afraid.
I can promise you, you won't regret it.
Over and out,