This is the third post in this series. The first two are here and here.
Rents in New York City are high so stores are often small and cramped, and sometimes there isn’t enough room for customers to line up in front of the cashier. Instead of forming a line they wait in a spread-out jumble, and when you join the jumble you don’t know who’s immediately ahead of you. It could be somebody standing 15 feet away.
I was in one of these little stores yesterday waiting to pay when a woman joined the jumble. I immediately thought, “Does she know she’s behind me? Is she going to cut in front of me?”
My brain was doing what brains often do, worrying about Freddie’s place in the world, looking for threats and averting them, etc.
There was an unpleasant feeling as this happened because having to worry about such things is a burden. A slight burden but a burden nonetheless.
I’ll return to this “burden” at the end of this article.
I looked at her to determine if she knew she was behind me and she very subtly acknowledged me. If I had known I was going to write this post I would have made an effort to notice how she did this. I think she made very brief eye contact and either changed her posture or backed up a step. Humans are so skilled at communicating with body language that we don’t even notice we’re doing it.
A few minutes later the group of people thinned out and she and I moved to form a proper line. She had a small impatient child with her and she was carrying a lot of items in the crook of her arm because she hadn’t bothered to get a basket when she entered the store. I was alone and my items were in a basket. Without thinking I gestured and said, “Go ahead of me.”
I think it’s interesting that my body did this without thinking because a few minutes earlier, when I had been worrying that she would get in front of me, there had been plenty of thought. The generous action was thoughtless but the self-protective concerns were not. In fact my mind was surprised by what my body did.
Normally I wouldn’t have paid much attention to any of this but at that moment I remembered the two articles on kindness that I published here a few days ago, especially my friend’s comment about grace flowing as a result of acts of kindness, and I suddenly thought, “This is a chance to observe grace flowing” and I started to pay close attention.
When I told the woman to go before me she said, “Are you sure?” I said yes. She broke into a radiant smile and thanked me. It really made her happy. Twice more before she left the store she turned and thanked me. Her face was glowing. This simple little act made a palpable difference in her day.
The effect on me was that I put the burden down, the burden I described above. This was a relief. I was lighter and happier.
The atmosphere around us seemed to change. It felt almost like when you’re outdoors in the sun and birds are singing.
My brain had been tiring itself out fighting to protect Freddie’s place in the world. I stopped that tiring activity by surrendering Freddie’s place.
So it wasn’t just kindness. It was also surrender.
Surrender to what? To the thing my mind wanted to prevent.
Maybe this is why Jesus told people, “If somebody tries to take your cloak, give him your coat as well,” and, “If somebody hits one side of your face, offer the other side too.” Maybe this is the meaning of that teaching.
One thought to “Be kind, part 3”
Very interesting! Similar situations have happened to me too, and I tried to analyze my behavior. Sometimes, just like your experience, it was a genuine flow of kindness. However during other times, my ego decided to take over. In one particular case, a lady with just a couple of items tried to cut in, but I didn’t let her. Soon, another lady with a baby and just a carton of milk walked in, and I switched places with her. Later, I wondered why I didn’t allow the 1st lady, but switched with the 2nd. The answer that I got, was that my ego wanted to be in control of the situation. The 1st lady tried to make the decision on my behalf and cut in without “MY” permission. I saw the 2nd lady with a baby and my ego decided to take control and allow that lady ahead, thereby making me seem morally superior to the other lady while at the same time, staying in control of the situation. So in reality, what seemed outwardly like an act of kindness, was my ego disguising itself as the real thing 🙂
Sometimes, we do have to take a stand to follow the rules of society because otherwise we would be encouraging and enabling bad behavior. If we’re able to do that without bringing our ego into the picture, good for us.