Do my actions reflect who I believe myself to be?
When I pledged to commit personal acts of kindness, I had no idea I would be faced with this question. Writing about it has become even more of a challenge. As a person who writes essays about my life, I usually know the end of the story. I reflect on some recent incident, jot down a few witty anecdotes followed by a dose of “aha moment” wisdom and wrap it all up with a funny one liner. It’s such a formulaic process that even my word count falls in line. My essays, without any thought on my part, naturally seem to end between 1100-1200 words. Such is the rhythm of my writing, and I guess my life.
This kindness challenge is shaking me up, for the better I’m sure, but sometimes that feels questionable. When I took the pledge to write about one act of kindness each week, I imagined myself penning feel good tales of collecting soup cans and walking old ladies across the street. Not exactly fluff pieces- better than writing about how to look ten years younger or tips to get ready for swimsuit season. But certainly no-brainer stuff- do good for others, feel good about you. This post should have been in the bag days ago, but I’m finding myself in a cycle of typing a line, deleting it, biting my fingernails, telling myself I’m a jerk, recanting, starting all over.
My first act of kindness was to hold a water and food drive for a local charity. I emailed friends and family to let them know I would be collecting donations. Within a couple of days, the trunk of my car was loaded with goods. Not the most scintillating story, but I felt pretty good about what I’d done.
A few days later, I went to indulge my fast food addiction, and noticed a homeless pregnant woman holding a cardboard sign asking for help. You can read the whole story about it here:
That evening, my husband, Ben, commented on how I seemed distracted. I told him that I couldn’t stop thinking about the woman. Ben believed me to be troubled over not being able to do more for her- and I was. Even thinking about her now, I feel unsettled wondering what is going to happen to her and to her baby. What I didn’t tell Ben was how ashamed I was for how long it took me to offer help to her. I was upset with myself for taking on the kindness challenge and making myself accountable through writing.
I hate that I live in a world where my instinct is to meet a cry for help with skepticism. I never give money to panhandlers. In fact, the $7 I gave her is the only concrete incident I can recall of giving cash to someone on the street.
The kindness challenge compelled me to do what I could to help her, and in truth, that made me angry. I REALLY REALLY did not want to talk to her, or give her food, or hand her money. I very much wanted to pretend I never saw her, get my tacos at the drivethru and head to some location where she would be out of my sight. I could have done that- no one was with me. But in my head, something about the challenge clicked- if I can’t be kind to someone who really needs it, what good am I really doing?
So I brought her food and water. And gave her money. And wrote down information for a non profit that might help her. And emailed the non profit. And called just to see if there was someone they could send over. I wanted to fix the problem. I ached for that moment of where I could pat myself on the back and bask in the good I had done.
The next day, I got an email from the organization. I was told they had received other inquiries about the same woman, and that they could not help her until she contacted them. Some might use this as ammunition- just another panhandler looking for a handout, but not wanting to make a change. I still felt horrible for whatever circumstances put her on the corner with that sign.
The story could end there. But I had a trunk full of groceries and water to deliver. I anticipated dropping it off, a hearty “thank you,” and be on my way. The gentleman who took the donations changed my thinking.
As he came over to help me unload my car, I asked how he was doing. I was just making chit chat. He replied “I’m doing great. I’m even happier because of the thought of you donating.”
Over the top, but he seemed genuine when he said it. I always wonder how people attain that honest level of enthusiasm. He WAS happier because I was bringing food and water in.
He told me that shelters and non-profits in Phoenix really struggle during the summer months, because so much of the population retreats to places with cooler climates. Of course, those are the months when it is even more difficult to be in need.
We didn’t talk for long, but in the few moments I spent with him, his kindness left me feeling like a hero for the day. I got my gold star, but I didn’t need it. I came away understanding the importance of what I’m doing. It’s not just something nice to make me feel justified in living the comfortable life that I do. It’s not a topic to write about. It’s not a way to get my pat on the back.
Do it because it is NEEDED. Endlessly needed. Whether or not you want to, if it makes you happy. Being kind is just the way to live.
When I started the drive, I explained to my sons that we were collecting food for people who did not have enough. They have never experienced hunger beyond wanting a snack and having to endure the car ride home before they could have one. They didn’t really get the concept. I told them “there is nothing worse than being hungry and not having food to eat. We have plenty of food, so we give food to other people who might not have enough.”
I had no idea the boys had been listening to the conversation I had with the donation attendant. As I got Liam out of his car seat at the next stop, he began reciting the things the gentleman told me. He said “there are still people who don’t have enough food, so we have to save some every day.” I hate that he is right.
I hate that my heart saw that woman on the street and wanted to help, but my head questioned whether or not she needed it. I’m not saying empty your wallet to every person shaking a cup. But wouldn’t it be a better world if we thought with our hearts a little more- if we felt the same compulsion to help as we did to question? In the end, I am no worse off than I was. I would happily pay $7 for peace of mind.
This challenge is changing me. The end of the story has yet to be written.