How have you all been ! I’ve missed this place for a while now….just slowing and happily finding my way back.
This little story was written a few mo0ns ago, so it may sound a bit dated, but the learnings of that day stay strong and firm with me.
I would love to know what kindness means to you too!
Kindness is such a common word- that we all have an inherent sense of what it is. A simple google search on ‘kindness’ will give you 122 million hits. The searches will further tell you of its ability to increase happiness, boost energy, reduce anxiety etc. But I wanted to go beyond the therapeutic babble and understand the real ‘agenda’ behind kindness. And what did it truly mean to benefit from practicing it.
I didn’t need to wait for long. It revealed itself to me on an exceedingly ordinary day.
The stringent lockdown measures had just begun to ease and so we made a plan one recent morning. We being, myself, my much better half and our even better two-year-old- Chikki. The plan was pretty straightforward- to have a quiet dinner at our favourite place after a stroll in the park nearby.
Yet, despite the plans’ apparent simplicity, me and the better half were nervous. It had been a while for us getting ‘out-there’ and the anxiety of doing something that we hadn’t done in a while — something so ‘normal’— was palpable. Chikki ultimately cast the deciding vote with his constant plea for “I want to go out! I want to go out”. Maybe he tuned into our thoughts- maybe he was the bravest of us all!
As early evening rolled on, we stepped out- prepared as we should be with sanitizers, wipes, a change of clothes for Chikki and extra masks all tucked away in a compartment of the stroller and my handbag. When we reached the gates of our building, we noticed an elderly neighbour of ours- a short skinny gentleman, perhaps in his 70’s barely managing to hold on to the large grocery bags in his hands. As he hobbled his way towards the elevator, the better half told me to just wait a bit as he walked over to help the man. I could see from a distance how relieved the old man was to have had help at that moment.
Finally, when my husband joined us back, he showed me the little homemade granola bars which the man’s wife gave for our little one- a thank you for the assistance. The wife had been having trouble moving about with her advanced osteoarthritis, this coupled with an empty nest saw the husband doing most of the chores outside of the house. The help my husband offered was really nothing, but it touched the old couple deeply. I for one had a huge smile of relief on my face- I had totally forgotten to carry a snack for Chikki!
Soon, we made our way towards the bus stop and queued up for the number we were waiting for. The weather was clement putting us in good spirits-easing away any apprehensions we had about stepping out. And with not many potential commuters ahead or behind us, we began to entertain the thought of a double decker making it our way and thus offering an exciting chance to sit atop on the first seat! I think more than anything, we were excited to feel this excitement itself. But alas! A single decker arrived with space just enough for standing passengers. We tapped on, nonetheless.
As we stepped in, I couldn’t help but notice how legs automatically got pulled in to help us make our way inside. Chikki held my hand while I held on to a handrail near the exit door. The better half, meanwhile stood with the folded stroller near a stanchion pole. When the bus started- a young teen got up and offered her seat to me with a smile on her face. I thanked her profusely because knowing Chikki- he would soon want to run up and down and that would have been problematic on a moving bus.
In the seat next to mine, sat a lady, who was perhaps closer to me in age. She gave Chikki a huge grin and they began hi-fiving and fist bumping…to my little one’s utter delight. Soon enough both of us started having a conversation, starting with the usual talk about the weather, then slowing steering to how coincidentally, she too was headed to the park, to catch up with a school friend, after twenty years! They were very close in secondary school until situations took them their separate ways — but only to bring them together, a month ago — at the local library- a place where they hung out when they were kids!
As she kept talking, one of the ear loops of her face mask snapped. She tried to tie it up clumsily, but I told her not to worry as I carried an extra with me in my bag and promptly offered it to her.
Soon, our stop had arrived, and we alighted at the entrance of the community park where the three of us said goodbye to the new acquaintance I had just made. As she walked away, I thought of how special it must feel to meet someone after so many years and imagined the conversations they would possibly have. My mind also ran over how much we came to know each other in just those 6-7 minutes we had together.
The park wasn’t particularly crowded, a few families, a few friends, a few runners and cyclers on various tracks that criss-crossed the ground and a few migrant workers in groups of two on their day off, every one of them though was an island oblivious to the beauty of the now setting sun. Chikki who had learnt that he could run with absolute abandon, was busy breaking daddy in a sweat! After a while, we took a little break at a foot flare of an Angsana tree- to take in the glorious sundown and also to wipe down the sweaty boys. Chikki, after sipping water from his bottle, chewed away on the granola bar while I began craving for some coffee. The better half gauging this offered to go to the stall nearby and get me some. I was pleased. Me and the little one planted ourselves on a bench swinging our feet to the beat of twinkle, twinkle little star and smiling away at a few passersby who, I am sure, were pretty amused at how loud a two year old could be!
Shortly, the husband was back with a single cup of coffee. Most of the time neither of us ends up finishing a full cup on outings such as these- so we had made a silent pack to share a cup unless one of us specifies otherwise. “Here you go!” He exclaimed, walking up and then taking a seat next to mine. I took the red disposable cup and proceeded to open the lid when I felt a small paper stuck to cardboard sleeve. I looked it up. It was a receipt for the coffee- not one, but for 5 cups!
“Tell me you did not drink 4 cups on your own???” I asked, flabbergasted.
“Paid it forward, for 4 guys.” He replied. But it was what he said after, that surprised me. He continued “It is kindness that keeps the world going I think, one small act, begets another and then another and knowingly or unknowingly we all have begun to unravel the very reason we are all here on earth!”
“You gleaned this by paying forward for 4 cups of coffee?” I asked incredulously.
“Hmm, No, the coffee was just a response. You see, as I stood awaiting my turn at the stall, I saw an old lady, quietly picking up some trash that was strewn about and putting it in the dustbin.”
“So?” I prodded
“She didn’t need to. She was just another park stroller like us. It’s a Sunday and the trash would have been picked up likely early morning, tomorrow. I was amazed just watching her and it got me thinking, maybe this very bench we sit on might have been cleaned by her — I don’t know for sure — but the very thought as a consequence of her selfless act made me want to do something nice for someone and that is what prompted me. Perhaps what prompted me will in turn motivate someone else! Our world is a nicer place because of these small acts done without the need for acknowledgement- like the seat on the bus, or the granola bar we received…all random acts of kindness that keep the world going…it keeps our faith alive! Maybe kindness is the religion we all should follow- just like the Dalai Lama says! It’s the true essence of every other!” He laughed.
Me, on the other hand, was feeling foolish on so many levels.
It was now the turn of our rumbling tummies to remind us that it was dinner time. When we got up, acknowledging it, Chikki, who had enough of walking for the day, demanded to be put in the stroller. After strapping him up, we made our way to the alfresco diner, crossing the planked boardwalk that went over a small river cruising through the park. At the creatively named ‘Riverside Cafe’ we were quickly ushered in by the headwaiter. The cafe was still empty, and we were thrilled to be offered seats with an unobstructed view of the river. Over a simple meal of dal, rice, a non-spicy vegetable and copious amounts of poppadum’s that Chikki seemed to be fascinated with eating and throwing about- we reflected upon how this ordinary day was seeded with profound observations.
I, who was still smarting from my earlier critical retort to my husband, told him how in awe I was of his ability to transform a simple awareness into something beyond the obvious. But now when I came to think of it, I found kindness strange and perhaps even peculiar.
“What do you mean?” The better half asked.
“You know, when we boarded the bus- I found it interesting how everyone instinctively knew what to do, pull away their legs for us to come through, and how without having to ask, I was offered a seat. Where does this sense of shared humanity come from?”
“I think it comes from this invisible kindness we practice day in and day out, simple things – smiling at a stranger, letting someone ahead at the supermarket queue and such…it’s a skill you hone. The benefit of honing it enables us to care enough, to put ourselves in their shoes and sense what they might need. Everyone is struggling in ways we will never know- but by simply practicing kindness we are able to treat others with compassion, respect and dignity. Something we all deserve and need.” My husband replied and continued.
“Kindness is also like an investment, our invisible acts are akin to systematically investing in the ‘Mutual Fund of Kindness’ whose returns comeback to you compounded- manifold!
Who know what kindness you showed someone at some point in time that you reaped the returns today! Perhaps you tipped a cabbie on your way home from work yesterday? Maybe you left a kind note for someone…”
“Then there is the domino effect- the one you spoke about in the park…” I added as I helped Chikki with water from his sippy bottle.
“Yes, that is there- but you know ‘The Domino Effect’ benefits when it is spontaneous and unmotivated. Its impact and effectiveness is most felt when the doer has no impulse to benefit from the act itself”
“Like the old lady picking up rubbish.” I suggested.
“Yes! But the best benefit of kindness lies is what it does to our society at large. It builds these invisible networks of trust and support that we rely on every day. For instance, if you were to head out to do the groceries, you could always check on the elderly couple and ask them if they needed anything or perhaps if you needed to run an urgent errand and no one else were at home to care for Chikki- you could reach out to one of our neighbours to watch him over. It’s a priceless resource, this kindness! It tells you how interconnected each of our happiness is to others”.
We drew close to ending our dinner. While we wiped our hands on the wet wipes, I realised how extraordinary this suspiciously ordinary day had turned out.
The better half went over to the cashier to pay our bills while I got busy packing odd things- like the bib, bottle etc while Chikki, remained seated in his baby chair. The headwaiter walked over and asked me if he could help get my little one off his seat. I sheepishly smiled and replied affirmatively, adding that I would be so grateful.
“Ma’am, I am the one who should be grateful! Thank you for this kindness” And with that he deftly took my little one from his seat and walked him over to daddy…. leaving me a little flummoxed. I didn’t quite understand why he needed to be grateful. And I had no idea what kindness I offered him — in fact it was me who benefited from his kindness — so to speak!
When another waiter came over to clear up our tables – he sorted my confusion. He told me that the headwaiter had twins back in his hometown in Indonesia. They were about my little one’s age and because of the pandemic he hadn’t seen them for over a year, he missed doing things for them- walking with them, taking them off their chairs… simple everyday things that brought him joy.
“Unbelievable” is all I could end up muttering.
As the three of us walked out, I recalled a beautiful line written by Leo Tolstoy in a book I hold close to my heart, ‘A Calendar of Wisdom.’ I thought it was the one benefit that underscored what kindness is all about the most. In the book, Tolstoy says, “Kindness enriches our life; with kindness mysterious things become clear, difficult things become easy, and dull things become cheerful.”
I dedicate this at the feet of Sri Hari, my reason for being and at the feet of my beloved Master- without whose grace I am nothing.