Random acts of kindness and senseless beauty thread.

I’ll be putting up a regular post later today, but it’s been a rough week and I’ve been thinking that I’m likely not the only one who would really like to ease my mind with happy things, good things, things that don’t make me question my faith in the better angels of humanity’s nature.

But given the nature of the week — the very personal, individualized cruelty that we all witnessed, on top of the larger political and/or global miseries — the internet tradition of kittehs and funneh doesn’t sit right. Further to my comment that I’m proud to share a country with the hundreds of thousands of Americans who acted to try to save Troy Davis’s life, I’ve been thinking about all the ways we are all served by each other — all the moments when a person could choose to walk away, but instead offers a hand.

In Troy Davis’s case, that offering became a roar, and it had blood in it. But most days, it’s the person who takes your cart back to the grocery store, or who finds you when you left your wallet at the ticket window. Maybe it’s the person who smiled when you didn’t have a smile in you. These moments matter. They are, to my mind, tiny pieces of God on earth, the little ways in which we heal the world and each other every single day.

So I decided to start a thread where we can all tell stories of random acts of kindness — small or large, today-fresh or decades old. A moment or series of moments that we needed in our lives and for which we remain grateful.

I confess, this is an experiment. I have no idea if this thread will echo with my own story (I’ll leave the first comment), or if others will join in their multitudes. I occasionally have open threads that go past 100 comments (but that’s pretty much because I open a thread when Ta-Nehisi Coates doesn’t), while some posts don’t gather so much as a single word of response. Most hover in the 3-15 comment range, and that would be lovely. Three to fifteen stories of kindness? That would make my day, and probably someone else’s. I hope you’ll chime in.

BUT FIRST: In a case of the blogosphere continuing to treat me kindly, I was syndicated on BlogHer the other day! What this means, dear reader, is that I have now made bank as a blogger. For the first time. Ever. Not big bank, to be sure, but bank, baby! So that’s a very nice thing, and I ask you to please click through and show BlogHer some love because honest to God — being paid to do what I know how to do? Makes me happy.

26 Comments

  1. We fly to Israel pretty frequently, and it’s never what I might call easy, but when the kids were younger, it was much harder — particularly as the girl would inevitably develop an ear infection on the flight either there or back, and become miserable within 24 hours of landing. Indeed, as recently as this past November, when we saw that she would be boarding the plane with a snuffly cold, our generally-conservative doctor very happily provided antibiotics just in case, and literally within 12 hours of arrival, we we administering the meds, because she had woken with painful ears.

    However, I learned five or six years ago to be grateful when the infection at least has the good grace to await the landing of the plane — this because when she was about three, the girl’s fever launched itself on the plane, soaring to vomit-inducing heights within what felt like two and half minutes. And of course, I was the one holding her when the vomit was induced.

    To complete the picture: The flight was packed, and it was at night. We were asleep, the people around us were asleep, the people right next to the suddenly wailing toddler were asleep. AND THEN THE VOMIT.

    Oy mein Gott.

    But the guy sitting just to my/vomiting-girl’s left opened his bleary eyes, and helped me out.

    It’s been so many years and so many flights in the meantime that I barely remember what specifically he did — I know he smiled, I know he didn’t complain, and I know there was a blanket involved. I think he both helped me gather the blanket into which I had (THANK GOD) managed to get her to vomit, and then helped me re-arrange her on my lap as the flight attendant took away the offending item. I believe he was also forgiving as we struggled to get some ibuprofen into her (because who doesn’t like swallowing drugs when they’re crying and have just ejected the contents of their stomach?) and her little toddler feet didn’t always land where they might have best landed, and then, when I thanked and praised him, he said, in Hebrew and through bleary, smiling eyes, “It’s ok. They’re so miserable when they get like that, poor things,” and went back to sleep.

    Oh my God! I wanted to shower him with kisses and all the good Lord’s blessings!

    To make the story more interesting for me (and all the Israelis to whom I subsequently told it), dude is in a fairly popular Israeli band: Hadag Nachash. So yeah: Famous guy not only doesn’t complain, not only helps, he also throws in a word of shared-parenting bonding and understanding. Still makes me happy, to this day.

    And now, for your Hadag Nachash listening pleasure (he’s on the mic on this song, the guy who shows up just before the backgammon players): (PS – the video is awesome, even if you don’t understand Hebrew)

  2. I have a similar catastrophic flying event with my not-quite-two-year-old-son on an Alaska Airlines flight to California. On the way down – fine. On the way up – well, he was fussy, and I gave him some M&Ms in the airport lounge to quiet him, and he napped in my arms on the way up (that was when you could fly your child free if you held him).

    And then he was sick (which explains his fussiness), and there was technicolor chocolate. Everywhere.

    My seatmates were as helpful as they could be, and the flight attendants, and the passengers. But I used to see a poster on subsequent flights, a poster with our picture and a title “DO NOT BOARD THESE PEOPLE.”

    I kid, I kid. All in all, I was treated wonderfully, given the circumstances, and still am. Flight attendants have perhaps the worst job in the world, dealing with people who constantly ask “Do You Know Who I Am?” without resorting to the old joke of getting on the P.A. to ask “There’s someone here who’s forgotten his name – can someone claim him?”

    My own interactions with random acts are just the ordinary kinds. I dropped everything out of my wallet at a restaurant a few weeks ago (no credit cards, but all the other stuff you collect – gift cards and notes and business cards and photos). Some stranger in the restaurant collected everything and returned it. No questions asked. Or when I lost my phone – the store first called the cell phone provider to report it found, and then they called me. (Hey, my stories are about losing things and the kindness of strangers.)

    People are good, I think. I believe in hope. I think things are going to get better. I love my friends. My family accepts me no matter what. Those are all good things.

    • The minute I read the line “I gave him some M&Ms,” I knew….

      Also, this: “People are good, I think. I believe in hope. I think things are going to get better. I love my friends. My family accepts me no matter what. Those are all good things.”

  3. Bookwoman

     /  September 23, 2011

    I was on a plane yesterday and the man in the row behind me was a saint. He was in the middle seat. The woman to his right was elderly and spilled her half-finished drink and ice cubes all over him. He kept telling her not to worry, mopped things up, and was sweet and chatty with her. The woman to his left was a terrified flyer. It was a slightly turbulent flight, but nothing out of the ordinary. Every time the plane did the tiniest little jog (not even enough to make the drinks move), she let out an audible gasp. He kept reassuring her, tried to make her laugh, etc. The kindness of strangers is a wonderful thing.

  4. wearyvoter

     /  September 23, 2011

    Just in general, it’s the small things:

    I’m grateful for the randomly kind people who made life easier years ago for a parent running errands with a freshly potty trained young ‘un, by letting us hightail it to the otherwise-off-limits-to-customers restrooms in their retail establishments.

  5. dmf

     /  September 23, 2011

    for fridays and random acts of beauty

  6. I had a lot of things fall apart in my personal life one year in college. Instead of spending the summer moping around the house, I decided to greyhound/hitchhike across the country and see as many national parks as I could. The number of people who reached out to give me a ride, lend a hand, walk with me or just chat are more than I could enumerate then, or remember now. But one story stands out.

    I happened to roll into Colorado Springs to hike Pike’s Peak the week before the marathon. I made it up to the base camp half way up the mountain, with little cash and camping equipment not set up for how cold the night would get. The people running the base camp gave me shelter for the night. When I got caught in a hailstorm coming back down the mountain and hurt my knee, a racer staying at the base camp carried my pack to the train stop for tourists on the other side of the mountain, another paid for my ticket, while his wife offered some sage advice about the details troubling my life at the time.

    When asked about paying back the money, I was told to give money to the next person I saw in a difficult situation. Pass it forward.

  7. silentbeep

     /  September 23, 2011

    I was at a Motorhead show some years ago, and I was in the pit. I was up near the stage and lost my footing and ended up laying on the ground somehow. Everyone was a flailing mass of flesh around me, and I lost contact with my friend, and I wasn’t sure how I was gonna get back on my feet. A hand reached out from the crowd, some stranger, and helped me get back up and out of there. I thought that was very sweet.

  8. dmf

     /  September 23, 2011

    slightly off-topic but still a hopeful note perhaps to end the week on

  9. BJonthegrid

     /  September 23, 2011

    I have met many angels over the phone. People who barely mutter “excuse me” when they bump into you will call with so much concern in their voice when they come across an accident. Petrified strangers have performed CPR for the first time while I talk them through it. I had a woman call me from outside a neighbor’s house that had heavy black smoke coming out a window. Against my advice, she broke a window and climbed in to save the neighbor’s dog because she could hear it coughing – like most of us these days, she didn’t even know her neighbor.

    It shames me that I can’t recall all the many people who have gone to bat, backed me up, helped me out in my lifetime. There have been so many. Two women I owe a trillion thanks are teachers. My oldest is quirky, jazzy & artsy and he could have had a very difficult time in school. His 3rd grade teacher, Mrs. Ann Sullivan, was his translator to the rest of 3rd grade. She laughed at his jokes, let him sing his original songs in class and the kids finally got this weird cool kid. As great as a mom I am, I could never have provided that experience for him. Seeing him excited about school and watching his self-esteem rise that year was like Christmas morning everyday.

    My youngest 1st & 2nd grade teacher, was instrumental in getting his educational needs met. I waged a 7 month battle against the school administration and retained a lawyer because it looked likely that I was going to have to sue them. She provided me with her private e-mail and phone number and we plotted strategy without the administration and school system knowing. At each meeting she sat beside me, not her co-workers. When it was over, she cried. Afterwards, other teachers told me about the fine line she had to walk at her workplace because she advocated for my child. I will remember her forever.

    Finally, there is you and all the wonderful people at TNC. Strangers on the SCARY INTERNET of all places have come to mean so much to me. I learn, laugh and cry at your thoughts, experiences and rants. You and the Horde provides a space for people to be brillant, wrong, self righteous, generous and simply lovely. It’s so ironic that many of the TNC gang are atheists and agnostics but everyday they reaffirm my faith in God.

    • This is so beautiful BJ – thank you.

    • “It’s so ironic that many of the TNC gang are atheists and agnostics but everyday they reaffirm my faith in God.”

      I keep coming back to this as well. I can’t really say “I know what you mean,” but – well, I know what you mean. They reaffirm my faith and my hope in the essential goodness of the human heart.

      I just believe.

  10. Lise

     /  September 23, 2011

    32 years ago a stranger who I went to for health care asked a couple of extra questions and set me on the path to a very satisfying career I knew nothing about at the time. Today I got to spend an hour with a young woman and ask her a few extra questions…paying it forward is the *best*.
    PS – I love the Hadag Nachash song! And, of course, the story that comes with it.

  11. omg, Emily, one of the members of Hadag Nachash helped you care for your sick child on an airplane? That is just awesome, full stop.

    Let’s see, what can I offer you: how about a photo of a happy toddler on a misty day? http://www.flickr.com/photos/44578715@N05/6178419310/in/set-72157627594937702/

  12. Locked myself out of my apartment last week, through sheer unreasonable idiocy. While the locksmith was struggling with the door (at 9 o’clock at night), the neighbor-down-the-hall came and brought me something to sit on, coffee for me and the locksmith, and finally an offer to go through her apartment to the veranda and get in that way. Which worked, and saved me from a three-day-weekend without access to my apartment. We’ve passed each other on the stairs and said hi, but no more than that, and I was so touched at this easily offered kindness (and practical helpfulness). I need to be a better neighbor myself.

    • What a lovely story. What a lovely neighbor! I need people like that to surround me, because I am forever doing things like locking myself out.

  13. I have an “experiences.kindness” tag on my blog for this very reason! The most recent post with that tag shows off the beautiful ad banners that my friend Tea made for me so I can promote my freelance editing services. She did it completely for free (though I immediately offered to take her out for a Very Nice Dinner) and was cheerful and uncomplaining when I got picky about design details. My first attempts at designing the ads myself were crude and awful; she really saved me.

    And I love reading back through those tagged posts and finding moments like this:

    One of my standard anxiety dream motifs is getting off of a train or plane and then realizing I’ve left my luggage on it (or running to catch it and just making it but leaving my luggage on the platform/in the airport). Last night I dreamed that I was on a sort of hippie train trip with a big crowd of friendly strangers. We were taking a tour of various farms and communes, doing the on-again-off-again tour thing but with a train instead of a bus or cruise ship. At one point I got off the train and it left, and then I realized my bags were still on it. But! One of the other people on the trip was with me, and she worked for the train company. She was able to get me into… a big warehouse? or onto the train somehow? and there was all my stuff, safe and sound. Happy ending.

    I’ve had lots of dreams lately where I’ve been upset and other people reassured or helped me, actually, even if sometimes the reassurance is rather inappropriate. (In one dream I accidentally killed the daughter of the king of Faerie, and I was completely heartbroken and miserable about it–I had loved her a lot, and it was a stake-through-the-heart head-cut-off death of the sort even magical people can’t come back from–but the king was kind and reassuring and even cheerful about it, explaining that the fae have to die sooner or later and since they can’t die of natural causes, it’s sometimes merciful to kill one. He also told me he had several hundred daughters to spare. You can imagine that I didn’t find this very comforting. Ah, the bizarre and heartless fae.) It is nice that my subconscious has at least figured out that other people are sometimes helpful and useful in making the world less stressful for me. Worth remembering when I’m awake, too.

    • You reminded me of a RAOK; again, flight-related…

      I was on a trip that required several changes in planes and layovers. At one of them, I went to get something to eat and realized I had no wallet. I was panicked, checked with security, only to find out that my wallet HAD been found, and was told to go to customer service – where I received my wallet, intact. It had fallen out of my pocket as we struggled to exit a very full plane. Someone – I’ll never know whether it was a passenger, a flight attendant, or the cleaning crew – found it and reported it.

    • That is awesome in a really delightfully weird way!

  14. JMS

     /  September 26, 2011

    Fell in the subway last fall and couldn’t get up (at roughly half the age of the people depicted in the commercials; believe me, the irony did occur to me at the time). A horde of random strangers stopped, asked me if I was okay, and when the answer was no, two of them helped me up while another ran for a subway person. I sat down on the steps because I was woozy. Subway person was incredibly nice, careful to get accurate information from me, and very patient while I passed out and came to at least twice, possibly three times, while she was calling for an ambulance. She went to wait for the ambulance, and more people stopped to ask me if I was all right. Firefighters and EMTs were very good and friendly and tolerant of having to chairlift me out of the stairwell (I am a large person), and at least didn’t make any comments about my weight in my hearing. Kindest of all was the lovely woman who did the x-rays in the ER, who kept telling me what a good patient I was and apologizing for hurting me when she had to turn my arm to visualize the shoulder break most effectively.

    The whole evening has a nightmare quality now (who knew IV fentanyl would make the world such a bad place?), but if my nightmares were all populated by so many kind people, I wouldn’t ever complain about them.

    • very patient while I passed out and came to at least twice, possibly three times O_O Holy Joe! So glad you were so well cared for! Honestly, I read these kinds of stories, and I’m like “Oh, ok then – in a pinch, we’re all there for each other.”

      But I really need to repeat this: O_O!! So glad you were cared for!