Musings: On Acts Of Kindness

Sometimes, just when you think you can predict how your day’s going to play out, you find out you’re wrong…and in a very surprising way. And when it happens, it shifts your perception in a way that can really be recharging.

The Friendliest Little Bakery

It started with a spontaneous decision to stop at a small bakery on the way back from a shopping trip. We had actually driven past it, but decided to turn around and check it out. Not sure what to expect (it was noonish already and other local bakeries are usually sold out by then or just have glazed doughnuts left), we walked into the diner-themed bakery and were happy to find the case still full of fresh, delicious-looking doughnuts. Yesss!!

The proprietors were immediately welcoming and we chatted while we decided which doughnuts to bring home (two maple bars, a jelly-filled, and an apple-filled bear claw). They asked us where we were from, what brought us to the area…we talked about raising chickens and predator problems, raising pigs, many and various topics. A family member came into the cafe and joined the conversation. We had a lively, humorous, and thoroughly enjoyable discussion. Unlike other interactions, it wasn’t transactional – it actually felt like we connected and the talk flowed.

While we chatted with his brother (who had popped by), the man working the counter left the conversation for a minute and returned, holding a bag. With six extra doughnuts. To thank us for coming out! While wholly unnecessary, we were stunned by his generous gesture. Not just great doughnuts (and they were – I really appreciated that the glazes and jelly fillings weren’t sickly sweet, and the cake doughnuts were standouts – superbly moist, with a hint of citrus), but warm, kind people ran the place. This was not a “select item/make perfunctory small talk/pay/leave” kind of place. We’ll definitely be back!

 

A Relentlessly Welcoming Co-Worker

When I began a new job, a co-worker went out of her way to get to know me and provide tips on fun places to check out, good restaurants, and local events. She left little gifts on my desk (like flowers from her garden or seed packets) just to brighten my day, and regularly invited me to lunch. I saw her doing this for others in the office, too, without expecting reciprocity, simply because she enjoyed it. She initiated office potlucks and had great engagement until “management” decided that it was really within Human Resourcespurview and told her to stop coordinating the potlucks. As with everything else, she took it in stride.

I don’t know that she knew it (and I never told her) but her irrepressible kindness and genuine caring made an indelible impression on me. She practiced kindness, daily, in an unkind environment, letting the high school politics roll off her back and deriving joy from her authentic connections with other good people. She was unfailingly inclusive, and refused to speak negatively of others (regardless of how deserving of it they may have been). Instead of ingratiating herself by acting like part of the sycophantic “clique”, she was just herself – hardworking and straightforward – and while I think she wanted people to like her, she also seemed to accept that some wouldn’t, for reasons known only to themselves.

True kindness, without ulterior motives, appears (at least to me) to be in short supply in this world. People who bestow their kindnesses on others are special creatures, able to rise above the pettiness and self-absorbedness [that mires much of the populace] to think of others’ feelings and well-being.

In the case of my friend, M., in the last story above, as much as I had to tear myself away to go to lunch, it was always a stimulating and enjoyable time, and I very much appreciate that she kept asking me to lunch until I actually went with her, and that she suggested quirky and unique places to eat. I’m not certain that I would have tried so hard…because, honestly, I am not as kind. Because of authentic, funny, persistent M, though, I strive to do better. Why? Because it matters. It may not result in a pat on the back, but it’s truly part of fostering civility and being part of a polite society. Many of us could do better, right?

An Old (Gold) Friend

I have a friend, G, whom I’ve known since high school, and despite not seeing each other for many years now, and through many life changes, we’re still friends. Why? Because she’s a true friend: the kind you call when you’ve carelessly locked your keys in your car at some impolite hour. A friend who doesn’t berate you or complain about being disturbed, who simply asks where you are and speedily brings spare keys. A friend who keeps your secrets, understands the “inside jokes”, and who, despite how you may think you’ve changed over the years, knows that you’re the same person you were when you used to watch “Saturday Night Live” together. Friendships like this are the bonds that don’t break, even through neglect and turbulence. This the friend you reach out to when the night seems darkest, the one who reminds you that there isn’t just a light out there – there is a whole host of stars shining.

There’s nothing quite like an act of kindness to buoy the spirits. These events evoke, for me, a mental image that I encountered in a book once, of people as musical strings in the universe – and when a string is plucked, it sends out vibrations that touch others. May this be the overture to a future sonata.

For those of a cynical bent, try to get outside of your comfort zone and practice some kindness. I think you’ll find it makes you feel good, and doubtless will make others feel good, too. Do it for yourself, as much as for others.