Not too long ago I happened to overhear an altercation between a pedestrian and a driver. I was having a lovely niçoise salad on a patio with my back turned to the street, so I couldn’t actually see what had happened and therefore couldn’t tell you who was in the wrong. But I can tell you that I heard more expletives spewing from someone’s mouth than the time I dropped a bookshelf on my big toe at an IKEA showroom and thought I’d need to have my foot amputated.
To my horror, the cursing woman was a senior screaming at a young mother pushing a stroller through an intersection. Now, call me old-fashioned, but there’s something wrong with that picture. And while I am the first to make special allowances for senior citizens, there was no way of getting around the fact that this mother and child didn’t deserve the public berating.
And it was in that moment that I had a strange and oddly depressing thought: Is this really what we’ve come to? We now live in a time where an old lady can drop the F-bomb on a mother pushing a stroller? I mean, I thought our standards for how we treat one another had sunk pretty low with The Real Housewives franchise, but this was something I’d never seen before.
As I write this, I still don’t know how to answer that question. Is it really that bad, or did I just witness a one-off incident? Either way, what it made me realize in a very roundabout way, is that kindness and compassion, in their purest forms, are harder to find these days. It’s a disconcerting notion considering, I’d say, we are more in need of it now than ever before.
Because if there’s one thing I’ve learned about kindness or acts of kindness, it’s that they are far more transformative than we may think. I remember being in a particularly fragile state one snowy winter’s day. I was struggling with some matters of the heart (what else is new) and I was lugging groceries home in the snow, thinking to myself, This day can’t get any worse. Then a grocery bag broke and the next thing you know my eggnog was all over the street.
Before I could throw the rest of my bags on the ground and fling myself into a full-blown public temper tantrum, I heard a voice: “Just breathe, baby. Just breathe.” I looked up to discover a woman smiling at me from across the street. It was clear that she was homeless. “I love you, baby. Just breathe.”
It was a stranger comforting me in a moment when I needed comfort the most. A moment where I was at my lowest, and someone who had nothing gave me the only thing she could: compassion and kindness. It was all I was looking for. It was a moment that helped change my outlook on life and how I was conducting my own.
At the time I was a workaholic and had forgotten that my actions can have an effect on other people. If my day was turned around by a smile and some words of encouragement from a woman I’d once witnessed dancing in the middle of a major intersection with a bottle of vodka in her hand, surely my actions must leave just as lasting an impression—both positively and negatively. It’s easy to forget about the importance of kindness because it’s so basic. But to that point, there’s also no excuse for turning our backs on it.
With the holiday season upon us, it’s so easy to get lost in ourselves and our needs and wants, but imagine how much better we’d all feel, how much more profoundly we’d appreciate all we have, if we just took that extra time to look out for one another. Think about it: How much better off would we all be if, in a moment when we needed it the most, a stranger were to tap us on the shoulder and whisper: “Just breathe, baby. Just breathe.”
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