Among the horror we’ve witnessed over the last several weeks, it’s been amazing to see tiny glimmers of awesomeness during hurricanes in Houston, Florida and Puerto Rico. In Las Vegas, where strangers put their lives at risk to help others as a gunman rained down bullets on country music fans.
These senseless acts of violence have become far too commonplace. I don’t know how to make them stop, but I do know how to do the things that have helped — being a good person. Lending a hand. Just this week we’ve seen how doing so can make such a significant difference in the lives of others. These unexpected acts of kindness spark hope amidst the darkness.
It offsets feelings of helplessness, particularly when you’re unsure how to make a difference, or even a dent. So, what’s stopping us from being good to others regularly?
At a conference recently, complaints about the lack of coffee in the afternoon are loud. Why not instead express gratitude for having our brains filled with new thoughts? Yet, I was one of the complainers, in need of caffeine and a hot beverage to warm my cold body.
An outdoor concert last weekend, mashed up close to the stage and below an overhead awning, air is tight. Limited even. Body odor. The sour smell makes my nose and lips pucker. Surprisingly, it’s coming from two petite women. Who doesn’t shower when you’re going to be in a group of people?
Smoke machines pollute the air, exacerbated by those who insist on smoking under the canopy. It’s hard to breath. Stifling, even. A few songs in, a lithe frame shoves himself to the front, stopping directly in front of me after I got there extra early to get a good spot.
He encourages the young boys next to him to start jumping around like they’re on pogo sticks. Luckily that is only up and down. I’m safe. But then he starts to shove. He wants a mosh pit. It’s the young boy who gets all adult-like, scolding him, “no pushing.” I’m so proud.
He continues his charades, strumming his air guitar. Over and over and over again. But it’s his long hair that really gets me. He bends down over his left leg, then arcs his head up and back over his right shoulder. The dramatic hair flip is clearly his signature move. I forget the cigarette smoke and try to avoid getting whipped in the eye with his tresses.
Why can’t I just enjoy the music? These are the type of things I think about after the Las Vegas shooting. I’m alive! Strangers have been kind to me. Can’t I instead focus on the opportunities that abound where I can help? Small ways add up.
I think of a night rushing to meet friends at an outdoor concert downtown. Frustrated because I was unable to find somewhere to park my car. After a second circle around the same block, I find a lot where the automated machine displays a shockingly high price. Hearing the first band playing in the distance, I decide to not pay and risk it.
“You paid the lot, right?” an attendant asks as I cross through another lot. I know he’s not the parking god, but for some reason I lie. “And you put your receipt on your dashboard? The tow trucks are coming.
“Yeah, they’re on their way. You need the receipt on display or you’ll get towed. And then it’s $250.”
I’m embarrassed. Why had I lied? And here he was, being so kind in a situation where he had nothing to gain. I’m shaken, a mix of shame and imagined rage. I was being … an ass. A total jerk. Why does it happen so easily?
I thank the kind man and it doesn’t feel like enough. I want to hug him, but that seems inappropriate. I’d like to give him a token of my gratitude but have nothing to offer.
Later, I remember a Starbucks gift card in my wallet from a day when a stranger walked up and handed it to me after I’d smiled at him. I carry it around as a reminder of the impact we can have on someone else. I refuse to spend it, basking in the kindness bestowed upon me by a stranger.
With each tragedy, I try to learn from this spirit of selflessness. And work to apply it, religiously. On repeat. At least until there isn’t any coffee.
"Unexpected acts of kindness" first appeared in Katy Trail Weekly, where Rani Cher Monson writes a column that is very funny.