Learning to be Kind

Yesterday, I took my daughter to her flute lesson. It’s a once-a-week pilgrimage which we make (now that we’ve “fallen back”) in the pitch darkness of an early evening that feels like the dead of night. She takes lessons at a local music store. It’s a large store — one of the best in the area — and the teachers are wonderful. Her teacher, in particular, is lovely, extremely experienced, and supportive. But the building housing this store is old and a bit run-down. It has terrible parking. It has a minuscule waiting area consisting of three uncomfortable chairs and a hard wooden bench. Typically, all of the available seating is covered in parental bums, so you have to kind of squeeze in wherever you can. This is often not easy.

Last night, the waiting area was mostly full when a woman and her child came for their lesson. The child went back to her practice room, and the mom squeezed into the one teeny, available chair left in the waiting room. She was trying to work on something. She had a binder and was attempting to take notes, but it was pretty rough going for her. She barely had room to sit, much less open a binder and do actual, meaningful work. There was nothing to do about it, as the space was full at the time she sat down. But, as the minutes ticked by, lessons ended. Children and parents left. Finally, it was just the two of us left in the waiting area. I was sitting on the more spacious but terribly uncomfortable bench, and this other mom was still squished into her tiny chair, struggling to balance all of her work on one knee. I’m ashamed to admit it took me a few minutes to notice her predicament, as I had my nose firmly buried in my Kindle. I’m an introvert, and this is how we typically deal with stressful public situations: by pretending we are somewhere (anywhere!) else.

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Once I realized the waiting area had become completely silent, I looked up and saw this woman across the way. “Excuse me,” I said, “Would you like to switch places with me? You might have more room to do your work.”

It was weird. She looked at me as if I had suddenly grown two heads. But it wasn’t a mean expression or a bad expression. It was just that she was surprised. “Would that be all right with you?” she asked.

I smiled and moved over to her side of the space so that she could take my place on the bench. “Of course,” I told her. “It’s all right. No reason for you to struggle when there is more than enough room over here. We’re all in this life together. We should help each other out whenever we can.”

This also seemed to surprise her, and she commented that she wished more people felt that way. Her daughter finished before mine, and, as they left, she smiled at me — a beautiful, genuine smile — and told me she hoped I had a lovely evening.

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Here’s the thing. It was such a small encounter. It was almost nothing at all. It took little effort for me to move my seat. But it made me so happy that I could help out another person, even in a tiny way. And that got me to thinking …

When I was younger, I thought that, maybe, I wanted to be rich. Or famous. I thought I wanted to be “somebody”. I wanted to be special. I wanted to be successful and talented and just … Well, All The Things. Now, though, I realize all I want to do is to learn how to move through my life with kindness in my heart and love for my fellow man. We are all in this life together. I want to try my hardest to have compassion and understanding, to see what others see or feel what they feel. In many instances, it is impossible for me to truly, truly understand these things. But isn’t trying worth the effort? Isn’t trying to meet someone halfway the important part? I don’t know the answers to these questions, not for certain, but my heart tells me this is the right path for me. It sounds simple and easy to say it. And yet, it’s a hard thing to do. I’m not sitting here trying to say that I’m a great (or even a good) person just because I switched seats with a stranger. There are a lot of days when I feel angry. I feel hurt. I feel misunderstood. I want to strike back at the people who judge me and make me feel hated. I have rage inside of me, and I have to struggle with those bad parts of myself. I have to tell myself, every day, that I am going to be kind. Most days, I fail. Miserably.

In the end of it all, I know I won’t be famous. Or special. Or … Well, Any Of The Things. But, if someone thinks of me and says to themselves, “She was kind”, I think that will be enough. I think that will mean I have lived my life well.

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