Capacity for Kindness


About eight years ago, I was out of town, attending to a truly dreadful business. I won’t go into detail, because it is not my story to share, but it was a thick, wrenching business involving nastiness and lawyers and vulnerable children. It was multi-layered: some of the “good guys” weren’t all that good, and the family I was attending to was perforated by grief and stress coming from many, many angles. It was basically a hell lasagna. I don’t know if any of the other participants remember it this way, but I do.

My daughter was at home during this time. This was good: I would not wish that experience on anyone. But she was my talisman, and I was alone without her.

I went to return home after my day in court, before hearing the outcome. I didn’t have my driver’s licence, yet (late bloomer), so I made my way down to the station. When I went to pay for my ticket, it was $7 more than I had anticipated, because I had neglected to book a day in advance. I didn’t have that $7.

In retrospect, this was not a crisis: there are a hundred ways I could have traveled the next day, or the day after that. No one would have died. But at the time, I was so desperate to get home. I needed to remove myself from the days of ugliness I had just waded through, and I needed my island and my family as much as I have ever needed anything.

All of this must have shown on my face, because the woman behind the counter got her purse out and rang in the ticket, paying the extra $7 herself.

She did not know me, and
she did not have any idea what my week had been, and
she did not know why I needed to catch that bus, but
she handed me my ticket.

I tried to make an offer of repayment, but she shrugged, and just said, “just pay it forward.”

I was halfway out the door when I thanked her, but my voice was already breaking. I cried all the way to fucking Nanaimo. I cried again when I got home.

I still can’t actually tell this story without crying: I have cried just typing it out. And then I cried again, when I had to explain why I was crying to the concerned person who accidentally walked in on my typing.

I tell this story a lot for a lot of reasons. I tell it because it is my own reminder that this gentle debt is never repaid – it is something I have the privilege of paying forward every time my circumstances allow.

I also tell this story to let you know that although there will be times when your generosity is taken for granted, there will also be times when you elevate someone who is so desperately struggling – and you will simply never know how you helped them cross a chasm. Please don’t be discouraged. Kindness is easy: find fundraisers for people unable to make their rent, and always seek out the most marginalized. If your own cupboards are bare, you still have the capacity to be generous with your words and deeds. Throw them like seeds in the most barren soil, even though you will never know what might take root. Throw these seeds sincerely, knowing that whatever grows will never be yours to harvest.

If there are times when you have nothing left for anyone else, that’s OK, too. I hope that there will be hands to lift you up.

I didn’t even send that woman at the station a thank you card. It is something I regret, but I try to let that be part of my lesson. I hope I do justice to her gift to me.

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