Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The Kindness Project: Vincibility

Too often kindness is relegated to a random act performed only when we’re feeling good. But an even greater kindness (to ourselves and others) occurs when we reach out even when we aren't feeling entirely whole. It’s not easy, and no one is perfect. But we’ve decided it’s not impossible to brighten the world one smile, one kind word, one blog post at a time. To that end, a few of us writers have established The Kindness Project, starting with a series of inspirational posts.

This morning I sat at the library reading The Wall Street Journal when an old man sat down diagonally across from me. This, in awkward social person context, is the least-threatening place to sit (across-from would be too invasive, and next-to too friendly). For that, I felt a rush of gratitude. He wore a frayed old Patriots baseball cap and big square-framed black glasses from the 1970s, and recent-looking brown Timberland slip-on shoes that a daughter probably had bought for him. This man of about 80 or 90 digested every page of the local paper patiently--as elderly citizens are apt to do--while I skimmed mine with the frenzy and noise expected of a young bulldog.
And as we sat diagonally from one another, a sort of sadness struck me: here he was, caring so much about the world he no longer had the physical strength to actively participate in, and here I was, carrying on like one day this life would never happen to me or any of my loved ones.
If this scene were a movie, then we both would have looked at each other at the same time, and he would say something profound, and I would nod, and I would reply with something as equally profound and all the time, violin music would swell in the background. But I didn't. I left before he did, and brushed by his CVS plastic bag stuffed with something. Because real life isn't a movie; real life is fraught with disappointments and familiar patterns of wanting to do something but never plucking up the courage. Movies construe the need for kindness to strangers and email chain stories out in the world float on with the command to love thy neighbor, but so few of us even have the time to show our parents how much we appreciate them.
Sometimes, it's hard. When I broached the topic of going to Europe for a post-graduation trip, my mom sighed. "We're going to China."
China in the summer is the incubator of mosquito larvae, a testosterone-addled society (thanks to certain practices, there's now a shortage of females in China) whose hormones would skyrocket with the temperature, a caricature of (preferably) lily-white bodies piled on top of lily-white bodies wielding parasols and struggling to survive breathe live in limited square feet...China in the summer is a nightmare, even in developed cities. If you've been to China for a month without contracting salmonella, your immune system is set for life against any type of food poisoning.
"I would rather go to college in the summer than go to China," I spat. "How is that a reward for twelve years of work?"
But now I'm reminded of our own vincibility. And I'm not sure...I'm waffling on whether I'd rather start school early than spend some time with my parents. They're almost fifty. My grandparents are in their seventies. As much as I would like them to, they're not going to live forever.
I have already spent too many months locked in my room, pursuing success and colleges and my future.
Things happen all too fast, and moments slip by before we realize they're there. We should never miss the opportunity to tell people what they mean to us while they can still hear it.
I'm not sure when the last time I called my grandpa was, but I know I'm going to pick up that phone and talk to him tonight--our voices spanning continents spanning oceans spanning years of heartbreak and dead ends.


  1. Well said... well thought... I hope you had a great conversation with your grandpa.

  2. More often than not, I think we miss these sorts of opportunities. It's tough to know what might have happened if you'd tried to start up a conversation with that man. Maybe he would've shushed you just wanting to get back to his paper? Or maybe he'd have liked you so much he gave you his winning lottery ticket because he knew he wouldn't have time to spend it. Who knows. But, the point is, you saw this as a missed opportunity. We all have these moments, but most don't even recognize it. Don't feel too bad about it--that's just life. Just do what you can and the rest will sort itself out. I'm betting your conversation with your grandfather was all the more touching and sweet now.

  3. You are an amazing person for coming to this conclusion out of a chance encounter in a library. Truly, it speaks volumes about your kind character. My own dad died when he was only 48 so I couldn't agree with you more; each moment is precious and we never know how much time we'll get with those we love.


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