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An Umbrella in the Rain

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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?

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5 thoughts on “An Umbrella in the Rain

  1. I try to help whenever I can. I got into a car accident a few years ago on the highway, totalled my car and was hurt AND having an anxiety attack. NOBODY stopped, and the guy who caused the accident didnt even get out of his car. I couldnt believe cars were rushing by and nobody was checking if I was even alive. Finally, a man who had been travelling on the opposite side of the highway arrived. He had seen it happen and took the next exit, looped back around in the other direction and came to help. He got me into his car with his wife and kids, called the police, then stood by as a witness. He was an angel!

    Sometimes all someone needs is a small kindness.. we never know how we will change a persons day by something as tiny as helping them readjust the grocery bags they are struggling to carry.

    Of course, sometimes fears kick in or we will feel strange offering help but I believe if most of the time you have good intentions and try to do good by others, the few times we miss the mark shouldnt tear us apart.

    • That’s crazy that no one stopped to help you after your car accident – and even crazier that when someone finally did stop, it was someone who turned around to come back to help! Especially in Nova Scotia – I would think that people would be more apt to help there.

      Either way, I’m glad you help when you can. The world needs more people like you!

  2. I’m so like this, too. I often don’t offer help or even kind words because of my own awkwardness and weird fear of rejection. I’ve always found it such a strange thing in me, and it drives me nuts. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to fully change it, but it’s good to hear I’m not the only one, and I, too, should strive to change this about myself… even just a little bit.

  3. You are definitely not the only one. Change happens one day at at time – one situation at a time. The next time you want to help, don’t stop to think about it. Offer your help. Even if it’s rejected, you’ll feel so much better for having offered.

  4. I recently had a similar situation. I was in line at the grocery store and a young guy a couple of people ahead of me was clearly having some mental issues. He was talking loudly to himself and seemed zoned out. When it was his turn to pay, he was trying to buy his iced tea and bag of chips with a combination of cash and two separate debit cards, as none of the sources could cover the purchase by itself. When his cards were rejected and the store manager was being paged, I jumped to the next line. I checked out and left. Then several minutes later on my way home it hit me – I should have paid for his purchase! Why the hell didn’t I think of that when I was standing in line?!? That was the right thing to do. I wish so desperately that I had stepped in and paid his tab. But alas. Rather than continuing to beat myself up over this missed opportunity, I’m storing it in the front of my memory for the next time I can lend a helping hand.

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