My mother passed away over a decade ago but I can still hear her voice saying, “Be kind.” That was her mantra for me whenever I wanted to kvetch about someone. She herself was not always kind but that didn’t stop her from doing her darndest to make sure I was indeed kind during every single one of my formative years.
In the grocery store the other day, a man wearing a store apron and name badge approached me holding a tray. My thoughts went like this: I don’t have time to try whatever is on that tray. I have to keep moving. I just stopped in to get what I need for the wine-and-cheese get-together I’m hosting.
My face must not have betrayed my thoughts because the man who approached me did not try to get me to try his samples. Instead, he looked at me and said, “You have such a kind face.”
He stopped me in my tracks, putting me at a rare loss for words. This is not what I expected. “Why, thank you,” I replied. “I try to be kind—I guess it’s showing now?” He smiled and said, “It sure is.” Then he walked away.
Think about it, folks. Those of us who are vaccinated and fully immune are finally unmasked. And I love that he’s seeing something in faces that maybe didn’t jump out at him before—kindness. Or maybe some of us have allowed the pandemic to change us for the better. Did all my time alone during two cold, dark winters make me kinder? Did it do what my mother yearned to do all those years—take me two degrees closer to being a “really good person?” I don’t know. But I’m glad he saw something that made him feel good.
Wouldn’t it be nice if this pandemic really made us all appreciate each other more? My neighbor texts me now to ask when I’m walking Bailey, our rescue dog and one of the lights of my life. He asks if he and his black Lab can join us, explaining that Rosie won’t walk with just him anymore. She wants company–specifically, my Bailey. They walk side by side, visibly happier to be part of a pack. You see? Even our dogs are appreciating each other more.
As I got out of my car the other day in front of a Latin restaurant, my purse came open and the contents spilled all over the ground. I bent down to pick them up, very aware there was a homeless man who had stopped a few feet away and was watching me. “You think you could help a brother out?” he asked. “Are you looking for something to eat?” I asked. “Do you like Latin food?”
“Naw,” he replied. “I might get some chicken at the Jewel store, though. They got good fried chicken. I ain’t go no teeth. See that?” He asked that while opening his mouth to show me. “I believe you,” I said, “about the teeth. Here. $10. Go get your chicken.” I smiled to myself, thinking that if you can’t eat black beans and rice with no teeth, you certainly can’t eat fried chicken.
I was waiting in line for my order when I said to the manager, “Does that man hang out here often? Outside the door?” He smiled and nodded. “I know I probably just spent $10 on his beer,” I admitted. “I lived in the city long enough to know better. But you never know. It’s close to dinner time and everybody gets hungry.”
The man waiting in line in front of me didn’t say anything but his lips were tight. He’d ignored the man I gave money to—but certainly didn’t come out to help make sure I was OK, despite seeing me crouched on the ground gathering up my wallet a few feet from a man who definitely wanted money.
The manager said, “You did the right thing. You never know when guys like that will get violent.”
As I walked to my car, the homeless man was a few storefronts down, watching me. I waved and said, “Go get your chicken.” He waved back and started walking. And I thought—yes, chance of violence. But I didn’t get that vibe from him.
And then I thought: where does “be kind” start and end? That’s the million-dollar question, Mom.
One more story. Tonight, I met a man named Jason and his small crew of landscapers. Jason had been recommended to do a late spring cleanup in my yard, spreading mulch and neatening up the flowerbeds. I was a little annoyed when he showed because he’d missed a previous appointment and was a couple of hours late.
But he showed. He showed up two hours before dark, as it began to rain, with threat of a thunderstorm. And he said, “Don’t worry. We don’t mind rain. We’ll stay until the job is finished.”
True to his word, they did. And they cleaned up after themselves.
As I paid him, he talked a bit. Told me he was 23 years old. Gulp. Just a couple of years older than my eldest but he easily looked to be in his 30s. I’m guessing his life has aged him prematurely. He works seven days a week, from sunup until sundown. He owns this business and has saved enough to buy a rental property. He was born here but has a thick Mexican accent—I’m sure he may have spent part of his formative years in Mexico. His parents and other family live there, in the mountains.
Jason shared photos of the town where his family lives, showing me the view from the top of the mountain. Then he told me about a little church, quite old, at the top of the mountain where his family and other villagers celebrate the anniversary of a Virgin Mary sighting. He said they keep a full night vigil and feast together in the morning.
“I spend the winters in Mexico,” he said. “But I work hard when I’m here so I can afford to bring my parents here. We’re starting the paperwork.” And then, his face lit up as he said, “I just sent my mom some money two weeks ago. I try to do that regularly. And I’m taking her to Cancun this winter. She’s never been.”
(I can already hear my friend Beth saying, “Only you could know enough to write someone’s biography after just having them spread mulch in your yard.” I hear you, Beth. I consider it a talent! Can you say journalist and humanitarian? Such a catch, oy vey.)
And here’s where Jason has written my ending to this post for me. Really. “I am alone here,” he said. “I don’t really have friends because I don’t have time. I work all the time. But you know what? Some of my customers become my friends. I know a man who brews his own cider and every time I do work for him, he invites me into his kitchen and we drink it and talk together. It’s nice that way. Less lonely.”
And that is when this kind face tried to beam every ounce of kindness in her toward him. “The world is good, Jason. Despite the news, despite the crooks and the violence and the ignorance. There is goodness. There is love. People are kind.” We left in agreement on that.
And guess what? He’ll be back to do my walkway soon. I may not have homemade cider to offer him but I’ll certainly give him some ice water and chat for a few minutes.
After all, it’s nice that way. Less lonely.