Witness to a Random Act of Kindness

Yesterday, November 13th, was World Kindness Day.  It is a special day when we can all do our part to change the world with one simple act of kindness.  Are you thinking, “Yesterday??  I wish I had known! Darn!”  Don’t worry.  I don’t think it matters whether or not the official World Kindness Day was yesterday.  You can make it be today or tomorrow or any day you like.  Just last Thursday, I witnessed one simple act of kindness that moved me so deeply I have not stopped thinking about it.

Every Tuesday and Thursday, after teaching my early morning yoga class at Continental Place Condominiums in downtown Seattle (Belltown),  the class members and I go have coffee next door at Cherry Street Coffee House.  We always have lively conversations and our coffee hour slips by so quickly.  Well, last Thursday, our group was so large that it split into two conversations.  Kim, Annette, and I were at one end of the table in deep conversation.  As we talked, an elderly, mentally ill man, most likely homeless, perhaps in his mid to late eighties, sat at a table nearby.  Either he had pulled together enough change to buy a coffee and a bagel  or the kind baristas had offered him breakfast that day.  He sat in his corner, alone, babbling to himself, drinking his coffee and working his bagel into a thousand crumbs.   At times he spoke unintelligibly, at times he spoke clearly but nonsensically. A worn-out sports coat hugged his bony shoulders and he wore shoes that were split across the front of his feet, revealing hole-riddled socks.

At some point, a very well dressed woman with beautifully styled gray hair abruptly walked up to his table, leaned close in to him, made eye contact, and said, “I’m not sure if  you remember me.  Eight years ago, you did something very kind for me  and I have never forgotten you!  I always hoped I would see you again so that I could thank you.  I am so happy I saw you today and I want to thank you for helping me that day!  I would like to give you this.”  She handed him some money.  “Please take this and buy yourself a nice lunch today.”  And then, in a flash, she was gone.

I watched the old man, tuck the money into his pocket.  I am not sure who was more stunned, the old man or this witness!  I was so curious and wanted to jump out of my seat and catch up with the woman to find out the details of this story, but she was fast.  She walked out the door with long confident strides, like someone who carries the secret of how to illuminate the darkest hour.  No, there was no catching up with her!  In her wake, we could hear the man mumbling as if trying to figure out a riddle,  “Eight? Ten? Ten? Eight?  Eight or Ten?  Ten or Eight?”

One random act of kindness!  How fantastic! All day long I thought about it.  What act of kindness did this elderly man do eight years ago?  Who did he used to be before he became an elderly man living on the edge of sanity in abject poverty?  Or did this woman cleverly come up with a way to give money to someone in need while keeping his dignity intact?

That evening, I had some friends over for dinner and I told them about the chicken-soup-for-the-soul lady and her random act of kindness toward the elderly man.  Who was she?  Who was he? What did he do for her eight years ago?  Everyone took turns giving his or her idea of how to interpret what was behind such kindness.  I will include two of the interpretations below:

Rick’s version of the story:

The woman is the old man’s daughter. Once a week, the old man’s caregiver, who is in on the scheme, brings him and leaves him at the Cherry Street Cafe. Then the daughter comes by in order to deliver the money he needs to survive. He no longer recognizes his daughter and out of stubborn pride won’t accept money from his family, even if he could recognize them, so she has to pretend she’s a stranger whom he helped sometime in the long-forgotten past so she can pretend to give him the money as an expression of appreciation. She was once heartbroken by his worsening mental condition and his stubbornness but has come to terms with the loss and feels great relief every time she succeeds in pulling off her act. She can’t say what the great favor was that he supposedly did for her because he may see through her ruse. Best to leave the great favor ambiguous and assuage his vanity as a once-great man.

Pam’s version of the story:

The woman is a now famous writer and the old man was her university professor in her first creative writing class. She was young, insecure and unsure of her writing abilities. She asked him if he thought that her work would merit applying for a creative writing program. He said “I thought that you were already in the program!” That was the only class she took from him, but that simple declaration was enough to propel her into a writing vocation. She had not seen him in many years and was so very moved by his mental and physical decline. Giving him money for a comforting meal was all she could think to do.

Kindness begets kindness begets kindness.  I will look for opportunities and do my part to make World Kindness Day take place everyday.   I would love to read your stories of Random Acts of Kindness in the comments below (committed, witnessed, or rumored).

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6 Responses to “Witness to a Random Act of Kindness”

  1. Karin Bigman Says:

    Beautiful

    Karin Bigman, M.D.

    Like

  2. Rick Says:

    Love:

    “She walked out the door with long confident strides, like someone who carries the secret of how to illuminate the darkest hour.”

    !

    Rick

    Like

  3. kay Says:

    what a great morning read! i appreciate your skill at bringing an easily overlooked moment to life. very life giving!

    Like

  4. Herb Says:

    rick, you’ve got a movie there. or a fine short story. or both.

    Like

  5. frangallo Says:

    Here is what my friend Dave wrote: …how interesting it is when there is a person that doesn’t really fit in (in this case: homeless guy) who is acknowledged in a particular way by someone that does fit in (well dressed purposefully walking lady) that elevates his potential by all the observers (everyone w/in ear shop at the coffee shop). Its interesting that knowing that this unlikely character has done something kind and generous for a smartly dressed lady changes they way we feel about/perceive him. That lady’s praise opened the door for us to see the good in him right now and overlook the smelliness and messy eating and muttering–we see past that because someone else rewarded them and treated them like they were more than what we see or smell on the surface. It makes me wonder about my own blindspots where I dismiss people or things because of my own limited view. We don’t know the treasures people have locked away within themselves and as the pace of life continues to run faster and faster it seems harder and harder to find out–especially with those that don’t fit in the box.

    Thanks again for sharing…those stories do help to restore faith in humanity and remind me to stay alert to potential.

    Like

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