On Kindness

Feb 5 2012

“Excuse me,” said the stranger as she stopped me in the canned food aisle at the grocery store, “I’m sorry to bother you.”

“Hi,” I replied, and I smiled at her because she seemed nervous.

“I just wanted to tell you, you’re very pretty.”

“Oh,” I said, surprised. “Uh… thank you. What a nice thing to say.”

And then she moved on. And then I moved on. And then I never saw her again.

……….

Even though it happened six years ago, I remember it precisely.

I remember what I was wearing and the way my jacket pulled just a little too tightly across my shoulders.

I remember wondering if I would ever have a successful pregnancy.

I remember being afraid that, if I did grow a baby, my three children who grew in other women’s wombs might question their place in my heart. I remember thinking that I was selfish to keep gnawing at that baby dream.

I remember thinking that my shoes were too clunky and so was my body.

I remember that the floor was sticky and that I was in hurry.

I remember that my bucket was full of doubt and worry and inadequacy.

“Excuse me,” said the stranger as she stopped me in the canned food aisle at the grocery store, “I’m sorry to bother you.”

“Hi,” I replied, and I smiled at her because she seemed nervous.

“I just wanted to tell you, you’re very pretty.”

“Oh,” I said, surprised. “Uh… thank you. What a nice thing to say.”

And then she moved on. And then I moved on. And then I never saw her again.

But I think about her all the time.

I wonder about her.

I wonder if she says random, kind things to strangers often? Or if, like me, she only does it when she feels compelled by the strange inner voice?

I wonder if she felt exposed and a little stupid when she walked away from my lackluster response.

I wonder if she questioned whether I was offended by “pretty” and if I wanted to chide her about equality and the expectations of women in our culture.

I wonder if she noticed the scars on my face from the accident I had when I was a child.

I wonder if she thinks it was worth it to put herself out there.

I wonder if she knows that I think about her kindness still, six years later.

Sometimes, we throw small bits of grace and compassion out into the world and they float away like helium balloons so far that we don’t know what becomes of them. Or we put in the hard work, or we wipe the wee bottoms, or we cook the twelve-thousandth dinner, or we tell our baby girls and boys that we love them and love them, or we smile at a stranger, or we feel compelled to scoop out chunks of our hearts and leave them in the canned food aisle at the grocery store.

We give those moments and then they’re gone. And it’s OK because they were meant to be given.

But sometimes, someone hangs on. We don’t know to which moments. We don’t know to which kindnesses. It’s simply our job to keep making more balloons.

I own a piece of a stranger’s heart. I wish I could tell her how very much I cherish it. And I wish she knew that she has mine.