I said it like it was the most natural thing in the world. I barely even hesitated. I said it to this dude sitting next to me on a plane, so-called dude because I was not traveling with him, I didn’t know his name. He flagged the flight attendant over:
Do you have headsets for sale? He asked.
Yes, let me just come back in a sec, she said.
He fished out his plastic and caught my eye.
Do you know, he said, do you think they take debit?
I don’t know, I said, probably. If not, I’ll pay for them. I have some cash.
I reached for my bag and began rooting around for my wallet. It was not weird. There was no weirdness, which when I thought about it later was pretty weird. Then we did that thing where we acknowledged what should be kind of weird.
Oh that’s really nice of you… he said, trailing off because..I mean, right?
Oh no problem, I said. Wait, these aren’t like forty-dollar headphones or something, right?
He laughed. I laughed. Witty banter: skewering weirdness since 1903.
I’m a pretty big fan of random acts of kindness. You never know when you’re going to be the answer to someone else’s ask. Kindness is the best kind of calorie count there is: you can gobble up as much as you want and always have room for more. Also, kindness doesn’t stick to your thighs and it always comes in all your favorite flavors (you never have to wait for the seasons to change or for any of that limited edition bullshit).
It’s not a stretch to say we could all use a bit more, ok, a lot more, kindness with ourselves and those around us. I enjoy pulling up to a tollbooth and plunking down money for the car behind me. I get a prickly, sweaty palm sensation as if I’m in sixth grade watching my friend pass a note to the cute boy I crush on. I’m suddenly a wreck from….joy? It shouldn’t feel so daring, so dangerous should it? I think it’s the momentary charge you get from the exchange of raw energy knowing that you touched another’s life in some way, in even the smallest way. Most of us don’t travel along this frequency all the time every day. Most of us are variations of walking fortresses with our assorted moats, bridges, walls, and cow-stocked catapults stocked at the ready in the form of i-distractions or willful indifference. That ray-gun zap of kindness is a kind of shock.
photo by s.moeschen
Before I boarded the plane along with said dude, I was at a weekend retreat where I learned that the energy your heart emits travels eight inches outside of your body. That seems like a mighty distance to me for such a tidy machine as our hearts (then again, I was never stellar at spatial relations). Eight inches. With the castle and the guards and the armor and the other medieval imagery I can throw into the mix (binding spells? dragons?) that we outfit ourselves with, it’s no wonder that it feels foreign and even uncomfortable coming into contact with kindness, with one of the most elemental and powerful forces at our disposal. But you can’t use it or feel it if you can’t get to it or let it get you gotten (say that ten times fast).
I must have left some gear behind before I got on the plane. I must have ditched the chain mail at security without even realizing it. There’s nothing else that can explain the ease with which I wanted to give a complete stranger my money. There’s no other way to account for the lack of unselfconsciousness, the total absence of janky nerves in the act of exposing just a little bit of myself in this way for another person.