Sorry, I have been out of touch for a while. My father passed away two weeks ago and for the past couple of months my life has revolved pretty steadily around him losing his. For any of you who have been through this challenging ordeal of losing a parent you know how all-encompassing it can be. (one aside, before moving on…..can I just say,”my dad died”? He did. “Losing him”, sounds worse – like I temporarily misplaced him, or we were separated in the Costco. We lose keys, people die.)
As you may have already surmised, the experience left me tired; no, exhausted, sad, relieved, and most of all feeling a bit lost- and did I already say – tired. Just days after he died I was in Portland with my 14year old daughter at something called Leakycon. That is another tale for another day, having to do with Harry Potter and Dr. Who and fan fiction. I can hear the voice of my friend Bob yelling, “push the narrative!” However, due to the circumstance under which I write, you will cut me more than your usual slack and stay with me in this meandering story.
I mentioned the Leakycon to add to the sense of having lost my bearings. I decided therefore, to go wander the streets of Portland Oregon on an unusually hot June day. I hit one of the best bookstores in the world, Powells books, I wandered across three of the five bridges, almost stood in line for Voodoo donuts, walked along the river for miles as the hours slipped away. The time passed slowly, my funk stayed with me, and I slowly but surely began to dehydrate.
I am not used to dehydration. I live in the beautiful Pacific Northwest where moisture is ubiquitous. Drinking isn’t always necessary. So imagine my surprise when at 5pm after a long hot day and miles of walking I was beyond thirsty – I was parched. Desperate. Sadly, drinks were not easily found. At last I wandered up to the farmers market as it was being struck for the day. The place with the elephant ears had a lemonade container with about a single serving left. I lunged.
Sadly, there was a HUGE man in line in front of me who ordered up that last life saving drink of cold lemonade. As the server placed it, sweating, on the counter in front of him, me – being me – said, “hey, you better watch it or I may just knock you down and steal that…” I was trying to be funny ya see. He was huge – as in tall and very well muscled – something about that, and my size in comparison, the fact that his biceps which were as big as my thighs, made me think this was really really funny. (second and final aside, this is an example of why my kids think I am super embarrassing. I make jokes with strangers that only I think are funny.)
The man slowly turned and looked down at me. He did not smile. Oh shit, I thought. Wrong guy, ok, not funny. Sooo not funny, oops sorry! Instead he said very seriously, “you can have it”. Now I felt more than a bit awkward. “Um, no, no, that’s fine, I was just teasing you…really sorry!” Still serious, he replied, “please, let me,” and proceeded to tell me his own tale of a really hard period in his life when everything was going to hell at once. He was in a hard hard place, and one day standing in line at a Starbucks the women in front of him, simply, for no reason, paid for his coffee. He said that it was “a life changing experience”. Yes, I quote. Life changing. No smile. Until that day he had no idea that people, especially a stranger, could simply care about you as another human being stumbling along on this planet enough to show an unsolicited kindness.
In contrast, I have been so lucky, I have been the recipient of so many kindnesses from so many people that I never even stopped to think about it, let alone have it affect my world view. I assume that the world is full of kindness. However, for this man, a small kindness, freely given, actually changed how he viewed the world, and how he related to others. His eye opener became mine. I took the gift – I also accepted the lemonade.
We parted ways, still strangers but both changed. I had a bit of firmer ground back under my feet, and he had the pleasure of “passing it forward”. Kinda makes you wonder what the world might look like if every once in a while we all did the same and showed each other on the planet a little bit of uncalled for, unasked for, just-for-the-heck-of-it, human kindness.