Most of my life I have lived in large metropolis. Big, monstrous cities that engulf people and stories. Once I moved from Mexico City to New York I discovered what it was to be truly lonely. You don’t need to be in the middle of nowhere to feel the utter presence of yourself only. It is the city; it is the enormous amount of other humans that make aloneness be so tangible.
There is this indiscernible aura of something I would call the opposite of shelter, which encircles you when you live in a city that is buzzing with other humans running around. It is the opposite of a shield because it is not meant to keep you in, but rather, to keep others out, even if you are shouting from within for someone to come out and liberate you from yourself, to let another voice in.
Anyone who has lived in New York City for some time can ascertain to the fact that they have seen someone weeping on the subway. I have wept on the subway, riding uptown, getting lost in the tunnels of my own mind. Crying is being vulnerable, it’s feeling. Crying in public is allowing yourself to be as human as you can be because, you know, feelings! And mostly, because it happens, it can’t be helped.
Have you wept in a public place, by yourself? Have you ever seen someone else bawling? What did you do? Did you observe them or did you move your gaze so quickly so you wouldn’t get infected by someone else’s vulnerability? Did you wonder why they were crying? Did you make up stories in your mind, wondering, wandering?
Or did you approach that person and ask if you could help? Or maybe, did you just tell them it was going to be ok? Perhaps you put your hand on this stranger’s shoulder and squeezed, letting them know that there is someone out there that feels for them, that we all feel and it is ok? Or, did you hug a perfect stranger, letting their tears wet your shirt, allowing their bellows to ring in your ears?
Hugging a perfect stranger while they are crying is what I find to be a perfect act of kindness. The stranger is not asking for it, not directly. The stranger is too involved in their own feelings to even realize the absolute need to be held. You, as the hugger, don’t get much, not a story, not the relief that crying gives you, and still… it gives you so much.
This week I went on an adventure with my two children. I wanted to go to a local farm that inhabits the middle of the city. All the maps on my phone screwed me over and I was suddenly, stranded on the hill of a park, midway with a very heavy double stroller with two tiny humans. It was too steep to go down, I could feel the stroller toppling over. It was too grassy to go up, the wheels kept getting stuck. I was sweating and struggling. Trying to figure it out. I considered unloading the three month old and leaving him somewhere, unloading the toddler and hope she didn’t run… I was sweating and cursing technology for taking me to the desolation of a steep hill with my 80 pound stroller. The minutes ticked by. And then… a total stranger appeared out of nowhere and asked me if I needed help. I did. She helped me go up the hill, pushing and shoving as best she could. A random act of kindness.
A few weeks ago I had a horrible Friday. I had to do all the paperwork stuff I usually avoid doing. I left the baby behind because I thought it would be quick. I went to one office and waited in line for 40 minutes only to be told I had to go to another office. I went to the other office. I waited for over two hours to be told I didn’t have the right papers. I was miserable. I had one more stop to do, I knew that if I didn’t do it that day I would recoil into my safe to-do list and avoid coming out again. I went to the last office, waited for an hour and had whatever I was doing, done. My breasts were hurting (I’m breastfeeding my babe), I had milk splotches all down my shirt because It had been too long. I was so thirsty. I was so hungry. As I left the building I noticed a tiny coffee shop. I went in and saw something made of Nutella. I told the woman on the other side of the counter how hungry I was, what a miserable day I had had. She told me to have a savory treat too. I agreed. I asked for a coffee. As she was about to make it I asked if she took credit card, I had no cash on me. She didn’t. I sighed and was about to leave, empty handed, when she said, no, take it, you can pay for it another time you are close by. I told her I was never around that area. She didn’t care, she gave me both the Nutella and the savory treat. A random act of kindness.
Telling someone at the light stop, as you are about to cross, that dress looks fabulous on you. Seeing someone across the aisle at the supermarket and smiling. Applauding at a street musician. Picking up the hat that flew off somebody’s head. Leaving an apple at the bench where you see a homeless man sleeping on your way to your early workout.
A random act of kindness makes gigantic cities feel small. A random act of kindness makes aloneness feel less imposing. It breaks down the walls we have constructed around ourselves to keep us, safe? Or just, simply, alone? Could it open up doors? Could it take you into a conversation you never thought you’d have? Did it give you a smile you never expected to receive?
What random act of kindness will you do today? This week?
And if you are still wondering what kindness can do for you, watch this.