It Only Takes A Moment To Be Kind

A lot has been going on lately.  Between hurricanes, wildfires, and humanitarian crises across the globe, it’s been difficult to keep up and I wonder about compassion fatigue.  I recognize that the need for help, understanding, compassion, donations, etc. will be a marathon and not a sprint for all of our current situations: Puerto Rico, Houston, Myanmar, to name but a few.

I live in Northern California.  Now that the smoke has cleared, I have friends, colleagues, and clients who are struggling with survivor guilt, overwhelm, and a sense of not doing or being enough.  I’m not immune to feeling like I should be doing more. I’ve either been unable to navigate the systems that are looking for volunteers or I’ve been too busy to put aside my responsibilities in order to dedicate a day (or several days) to help out the fire victims who reside only 40 miles from my front door and the amazing first responders who have helped them.  When my clients express their own dismay or sense of helplessness or tell me they realize they’ve overextended and can’t sustain the pace they’ve set to help others, I remind them that we all do what we can when we can.  There is always need and, sadly, there will always be another opportunity to step up.

Every October my Synagogue hosts Mitzvah Day.  Roughly translated, a mitzvah is a good deed.  All of the current stressors we are facing give us an opportunity to make every day a Mitzvah Day.  Regardless of what time you have to offer or money you have to donate or clothing you have to spare, we all have an opportunity ~ every day ~ to be polite and caring to those around us.  It might cost us an extra five minutes to ask if someone is ok when they seem distressed, to wait an extra few seconds to hold a door for an elderly person or parent struggling to get their kids to their next task, to compassionately remind someone to take a breath when they seem frustrated.  Most of us have, at some point, experienced the kindness and compassion of a stranger on a day that wasn’t going well.  Those unexpected moments of connection to another human being when we need it ~ even if we don’t recognize we need it in the moment ~ can be life-saving.

Does that seem like a bold statement?  I’ll give you an example.  Many years ago I was desperately searching for the phone number of our dog sitter.  I’d somehow lost it and was trying to let her know we’d come home early.  I have no idea what came over me because it seemed crazy even to myself but I dialed every name in the phone book that was remotely similar to my dog-sitter’s name.  Around the fifth wrong number, the woman who answered just didn’t sound right to me.  This woman sounded really depressed Instead of moving on to the next number in the phone book, I asked if she was ok.  She admitted she was feeling down and we talked for several minutes about her family struggles and loneliness.  I listened, made some suggestions and gave her my number, asking her to let me know how things worked out.  She called me several weeks later and told me that she had reached out to her family and things were better.  She also told me that when she answered my call she was sitting in front of a bottle of  Jack Daniels and several bottles of pills.  She credited me with saving her life.

Perhaps that story sounds self-aggrandizing.  I don’t mean for it to be so.  What I’m grateful for is that I didn’t just hang up the phone and move on to the next number.  When I think about how easily I might have done that, it takes my breath away.  I don’t remember this woman’s name but I think about her all the time and send up a little prayer for her with a huge sense of gratitude that I somehow sensed her distress and didn’t ignore it.

Please remember, in this stressful time or any stressful time, that kindness goes a long, long way.  Taking a moment to notice someone, speak to them, and support them ~ even in passing, can have as big an impact as helping to rebuild a community after devastation.  The silver lining in all these tragedies is that we have an opportunity to be our best selves.  Even if we aren’t serving food to refugees or sorting donations of clothing for the homeless, these terrible events are a good reminder to slow down and check in with ourselves, our neighbors and friends, and strangers in line at the grocery store.  We are all human and kindness only takes a moment but the impact can be far-reaching and significant.