I was nearly in a car accident getting off the freeway this morning. It was totally my fault. It wasn’t the low gas in my tank and guessing if I could keep getting closer to work before stopping or would my gamble make me really, really late. It wasn’t looking at my GPS while on a call to deal with the insurance company for my cracked phone. It wasn’t even being stressed that my son fights going to school with me because he feels safer fighting me than the bullies making his school day hard (that was my first call). I just didn’t see the car hanging out in my blind spot until I heard his horn and saw his double fisted single finger salutes in my honor. He was angry.
What do you do when you’ve been flipped off? Do you retaliate? Do you pretend nothing happened and avoid eye contact? Do you flee as quickly as possible?
Not if you’re me.
I asked the woman on the phone with me to wait just a moment and as he pulled up near me, I put my window down and apologized for not seeing him. It was the truth. I could have really ruined my day and hurt the car that has been my trusted ally in adventure for the past year. The rage I inspired told me he was also not looking forward to getting to experience the upheaval in an accident. Hands raised, window rolled down (do they roll anymore, or is that my old showing?) . . . I said, “I’m so sorry. I just didn’t see you.” He said it was okay and apologized for his burst of anger. I got back on the call and the woman apologized and tried to rush off, and I assured her I was fine, had a moment of trying to merge into someone hanging out in my blind spot and had a fairly uneventful commute for the rest of the hour on the road.
Kindness and unwillingness to return his anger with my own made my morning flow smoothly. I got to the office after slaying a few dragons and was able to flow into my next task. You know, the ones I actually get paid for.
After a full shift at work and a long commute home, I was standing in line at the grocery store with an elderly man just behind me. He had rough wrinkles around the corners of his eyes. They were the kind that stood proudly as if leathered in the sun and toughened with age. His eyes were a soft and almost faded blue and he had a few stories to share. He told me about a story a college professor told him over 50 years ago. It brought humor and light to a political situation that has made me angry and conjured passionate tears in the last few executive orders. What he gave me in kindness I returned with an open ear and a smile that was an extension of my kindness. So much of the exhaustion from traffic that settled in my shoulders left as I was packing groceries into my car.
This weekend my boyfriend grabbed my clean laundry from the dryer. The shock faded as I watched him step out in the rain and I walked back to my bedroom as quickly as I could and began to cry. It was a heavy cry with shoulders shaking and heart aching because it was the sweetest offer I didn’t expect. I was able to stay inside and out of the rain while the man that seems to adore me went out in the rain to grab my laundry so I would have clean socks to wear. I tried to get the crying under control but he reads me well enough that I couldn’t hide how overwhelmed I was at his kindness. He did something similar with a broken dish he cleaned up before I could reach down to take care of it. He did it again in clearing dinner dishes so I could go mother my boys. It’s his kindness that melts the ice around me while his ability to tell me what to do without making me angry has my complete attention. Without his kindness, there would be nothing. He would tell me to sit in the corner booth while he got our food and I would walk out. Instead it’s sexy that he’s so commanding and kind to me.
So much of the world we live in has an expectation for an exchange. We give because we expect something in return. We offer because we know that might mean we’ll be gifted in return. What happens when your only expectation is a moment of kind engagement? I write this and I know when I get home I’ll have to talk to my son about self-defense. Kindness doesn’t always work, but I would never want him to be a victim and there’s a balance we get to find between confidence and cockiness, self-defense and violent aggression. It’s one of those lessons I don’t want to have to teach but it’s a lesson we all draw on.
In the policies changing and pulling human kindness out of a nation, we’re left with the ability to stand in unity, petition in solidarity and write unceasingly until we see the change that puts kindness and humanity back into the fabric of our nation and the breathing spaces of our world. We can’t survive by looking out only for ourselves and allowing the strongest to win. We win by ensuring we are lead to work on the ideals of equity and not the blind belief of equality. It means we give each other what we each need to succeed rather than just treating everyone the same. We acknowledge and honor our differences and celebrate our similarities. We breathe as a nation based in love and kindness and we create a world with intention.