Let’s Be Each Other’s Angels.
I wonder if we notice enough those times when casual kindness changes someone’s day.
In our daily lives, we can get so busy: we worry about money, opportunity, our kids, our health — it can be hard to stay present.
Our lives can sometimes seem so full that we barely have time for ourselves, or our families, much less people we don’t know — those strangers who are grabbing coffee next to us, or standing in line waiting for the bus.
But what’s amazing to me about this human existence of ours is that just the most fleeting expression of compassion — even to a stranger, especially to a stranger — can lift people’s moods, change the trajectory of their day, and have a quiet, ripple effect outward.
Let me tell you a story.
A little while ago, I had one of those afternoons that broke my heart.
Months earlier, a friend of mine had asked me if I’d be around Thanksgiving weekend. She lives in Chicago but was driving up to a small town an hour outside of where I live, to spend the holiday with an old friend. I jumped at the chance.
“Let’s meet at three,” we decided.
I was so excited that a few days before we were due to meet, I had gone through train schedules and mapped out my journey. That day, I put red lipstick on, tied a red scarf around my neck and wore my red shoes. I felt festive. I even took a cab to the station.
This is where the first thing went wrong.
Both the online schedule and the clerk behind the first counter didn’t tell me that the trip included a transfer, so when I got off the train and asked where to go next, I was met with a look of confusion.
“Oh,” the woman behind the glass said, “you should have got off one stop before this one. No one told you?”
I must have looked a little overwhelmed, because even though the sign above my head said No entry without paying, that clerk let me go back down to catch the train in the other direction. I waited 10 minutes for the next train, and then once it arrived, there was a 15-minute delay.
When I finally got to the station, there was a half-hour wait for the bus.
At this time, it was already 3:30 — I was already technically half an hour late, I’d been travelling for three hours, and my festive red scarf started feeling like it was going to choke me.
I texted my friend, I’m so sorry, I’m on my way. My phone all of a sudden only had 10 percent battery.
She texted back, I have to leave at 5:30, but there is plenty of time.
I asked someone who was also waiting how long the trip would be. He looked at me, and gave a sweet, soft smile.
“Oh, about 20-25 minutes,” he said.
There was still a fist of ice in my stomach, but I quickly did the calculations. I would get there and we would have an hour. That would have to be enough.
The bus finally showed up and we loaded on, but I had trouble concentrating through the haze of worry. My critical inner voice was speaking up loudly: “You always manage to screw everything up, don’t you? She’s been waiting for you for hours. You’re always so late and you disappoint everyone.”
Outside the window a few flakes of snow blew against the glass; the world outside had turned grey as though a curtain had fallen.
Minutes passed; so many minutes that I turned to a mother and son who were sitting behind me and asked them when we’d be arriving.
“Oh, my dear, we passed it a long time ago,” the mother said, “I don’t know why they stopped announcing when we arrive in different towns. But now they just say intersections, and I must say it’s confusing even if you know where you’re going.”
It was at this point when the driver called out the last stop.
The driver let me off in the middle of a deserted mall parking lot. The snow had turned into a blizzard.
I stumbled back the way we had come, thinking I remembered a bar back there, somewhere to warm up, using a phone that now had two percent battery to text my friend that she had waited for two and half hours for me at a coffee shop for nothing.
Just as my phone faded to black, I dissolved into the kind of crying I’ve only done a few times in my life.
It was just shitty timing, shitty luck, shitty everything.
I walked through the snow until I found the sign that I had remembered seeing earlier. It was one of those suburban restaurants that serve good wings and have Coors Light on tap. As I walked through the front doors, I brushed an inch of snow from my coat.
I took off my jacket and red scarf and sat, a little dejectedly, at the bar. The bartender came over. It was not very crowded in the restaurant, maybe because of the snow or because it was early. She gave me a warm look of appraisal.
“What can I get you? Is everything all right?”
In a split second, I made the decision to bypass the automatic answer of I’m fine, thanks.
“No, I’m not.” I said, and a sigh escaped from somewhere deep inside of me.
It felt good to acknowledge truth in front of a stranger.
I quickly went over what had transpired so far that day. Even in this short retelling, I noticed that it hurt less — and once I could feel the hurt loosening, I began to realize what I needed to do to take care of myself and get back home.
“You don’t, by any chance, have an iPhone charger, do you?”
“No, I don’t, but I’ll look around for you,” she said, disappearing through the swinging doors to the kitchen.
I sat at the bar drinking and letting my fingers and heart thaw. She came back a few minutes later with a frayed cord.
“I don’t know if this will work, but we can try. In the meantime, if you need to talk to someone, you can use mine.”
It seemed like a big deal that someone I didn’t know would let me use their personal phone. I was touched that even that small gesture of trust was offered.
I hammered out a message to a few people, telling them that I was fine. When I was done, I headed back to my stool. She smiled, and asked me if I had gotten in touch with the people I needed to. Then she slid a menu across the bar to me.
“You look like you need to eat something,” she said.
It was the most grateful I can remember being in a long time. It felt like I was feeling what the word was invented to express.
Pretty much since I left my home that morning, I had been dogged by bad luck: nothing serious or life-threatening, but disheartening at every turn.
The missed stop, the technical problems on the train, the wait for the bus, the missed city and connection, the blizzard: it added up to a movie script without the cute ending. But as I sat there basking in the glow of a few kind words, I could feel my mood lightening.
This bartender was just at work, doing her job, thinking about the ways she could make her (quite bedraggled) customer have a better experience. She had an idea of the day I had, but no idea that my triggers had kicked in, making me an emotional mess.
But she didn’t turn away from my honesty — she honored it, and by making a small gesture, she helped restore my equilibrium.
Sometimes I’m haunted by the knowledge that every stranger I pass on the street has a story. Even though we may not ever meet, all of us are wrapped up in those stories — the ones we tell ourselves and the ones that others tell us.
That person you sat next to on the subway: their mother died that morning and they’re desperately trying to hold it together until they get to a private place to cry. That man walking down the street just got out of rehab.
That woman holds down two jobs and takes meals to the seniors’ home on the weekends. That person was bullied. That person’s depressed. This one just got engaged to the love of their life.
It stuns me, the depths of emotion we all contain. The love, the passion, the frustration and grief and longing. I am convinced that if we learn to approach every interaction with kindness and an eye to be helpful as we can, then we can change people’s relationships with the world around them.
We don’t know, moment to moment, what another person may be dealing with. Let us look out and be angels for one another. We never know who it might help.
Kindness is revolutionary.
Bronwyn Petry is a writer, empath and deep thinker living in Toronto. She holds a degree in Creative Writing and won’t give up on her dream to someday play roller derby, even though she’s too klutzy to skate. She has held every job from puppeteer to barista and has traveled as much of the world as she’s been able. She has a soft spot in her heart for animals, forests, and the sheer force of the imagination. She believes that kindness is alchemy. Please connect with her on Facebook or on Instagram. She’d love to say Hello.