A few years ago, the Toronto Star started running an “Acts of Kindness” section in the online edition of the newspaper. They were short, heartwarming accounts of random acts of kindness written by everyday Torontonians who had experienced a kindness at the hands of a stranger. I checked out the website today looking for it, but it seems the series stopped at the end of 2010, which is really too bad. It gave me, and a lot of other people, a glimpse into the goodness that permeates our city, and maybe it inspired some acts of kindness amongst its readers.
It has been a while since I thought about this section of the Star, but it came back to me with a memory from the laundromat last year. It’s funny the things you remember – so many nice and wonderful things have happened in my life over the past year, but this still haunts me.
It was raining hard that day, and I had my favourite umbrella, a good book, and four huge loads of laundry to keep me company. Having put my four loads in the dryer, I was settling in with my book once more when I noticed an older lady prepping to leave the laundromat with two shopping bags of laundry. She didn’t have an umbrella, and as she stopped at the door to contemplate the weather and the walk ahead of her, it occurred to me that I should get up and offer to walk her wherever she was going under the shelter of my umbrella. She couldn’t have been going very far, and I had the time. But instead, I just sat there, watched her leave the laundromat in the rain, and wished I had gotten up to assist her.
And to this day, I still wish I had gotten up to help.
I don’t know why I didn’t. Maybe I didn’t want her to reject my help. Maybe I was afraid of being misunderstood and of having her think I wanted something from her. Maybe I was afraid of her thinking I just wanted to case her house to come rob her later. None of those really seem like likely scenarios. And of course, I could have just offered my help regardless of the outcome. I should have. Because then I wouldn’t be sitting here, over a year later, wondering why I didn’t help her, and still wishing so hard that I had.
For 45 minutes straight after she left the laundromat, I thought about that woman. When it was my turn to leave, I called Stu to come pick me up, and proceeded to start gathering up my bags to head for the door. A girl who was sitting nearby offered to help me carry my bags to the door. I gladly accepted her help, and then felt even worse for not having helped the lady in the rain earlier.
What is it that makes it so easy for some people to go out of their way for another, and what it is that makes it so difficult for others? If I had been a fly on the wall watching the scene with the old lady play out, I would have said of myself, sitting there staring almost longingly after her with my umbrella by my side, “Why are you being such a moron? You WANT to help her, so go help her!” But I know that the answer wasn’t because I was being mean or spiteful. It was because I was afraid.
But having given that day so much thought since then, it has reinforced in me that I can be afraid to be kind no more. What a stupid thing – being afraid to be kind. I’d rather have my kindness rebuffed than wish I had offered to help in the first place.
Since then, I have been presented with the opportunity to offer a small kindness so many times, and I’ve taken it. But the one that stays with me is the lady in the rain, and my umbrella by my side.
Is it just me? Have you had the opportunity to offer a kindness and not taken it? And why? Or are you one of those who always steps in to help?