Sometimes a heaviness fills the air around my head and settles on my shoulders. Everywhere I look, its more bad news. Struggles, injustice, bad decisions… If I’m not careful, I’ll carry this heaviness with me and it will colour the world grey. Thankfully kindness shines through the murkiness of bad news. In my experience, even the smallest act of kindness is enough to lift that fog.
Kindness is sharing with others. A few months ago, I had an emotional day. There were a lot of things building up over the weeks; the winter felt too long, family and friends felt too far, and some challenges seemed just too difficult to overcome. That day, I went to a car rental company to return our rental car. While working out the bill, I told the lady working there that I’d paid the e-tolls online, but one was paid a couple of hours too late and had a penalty on it, and I’d be happy to pay in the difference. She informed me that, unfortunately, the bill would go to head office and I would have to pay the toll again, plus the additional cost for late payment, and an admin fee. That was the final straw, and I burst into tears. It wasn’t about the e-toll; it was that, despite my best efforts, things felt out of control. I got my emotions under control in a matter of seconds and apologised. On top of everything, I now felt embarrassed as well!
‘I’m really sorry,’ I said. ‘It’s just one of those weeks.’
Her answer took me by surprise. ‘I completely understand, doll,’ she said. ‘I had one of those weeks last week. Tears and all.’
She then insisted on subtracting the additional amount from our rental bill so it would all even out in the end. It was a small gesture, but it made me feel less alone.
Kindness is having patience. Letterkenny has, in some ways, kept its small town character. A good example of this is when some people stop their cars in the middle of the road for reasons that would make any city dweller pull out their hair in frustration: to let pedestrians cross the road, even if the zebra crossing is only a meter or two away; to catch up with a friend driving by, and chat while other drivers wait with varying degrees of patience; and to give other drivers a gap in traffic. Initially, as someone who was used to a long daily commute to work and back in Johannesburg traffic, I was frustrated with people randomly stopping in front of me. But by now, I’ve been on the receiving end of that kindness so many times that I can no longer justify my irritation at the short-lived inconvenience. And yes, I’ve made a few random stops myself lately.
Kindness is seeing others’ needs. Recently, I was standing in a parking lot, rummaging through my wallet to find a coin for the parking meter when the coin compartment of my wallet snapped open, and all my coins fell into my handbag. I was late for an appointment and I felt rushed, and the more I fumbled around in the seemingly endless pit of my handbag, the less I found any coins I could actually use. A man who was paying for his own parking asked me how long I intended to stay and, without really thinking about it, I responded that I would only be about half an hour. The next thing I knew, he’d paid for my parking and told me to have a nice day. Later that same day, and still running late for the same appointment, I ran into my trusted Aldi to buy some flowers. I looked at the two checkout points, and both were fully packed with people buying trolley loads of groceries. Just my luck! Two women at one of the checkout points were still unloading their shopping onto the conveyor belt when they saw me standing there. At this point, I was wondering if the flowers would be worth me turning up so late. They waved me over and insisted that I skip ahead to the very front of the queue to pay for the flowers. Thanks to their kindness, I was on time for my appointment.
Kindness is reaching out to others. The community of foreigners in Letterkenny literally grows on a weekly basis. People from different religions, cultures, countries, and backgrounds congregate here. And because we’re all in the same boat, people are quick to empathise, give advice, and offer help. The South Africans are also great at supporting each other; I would’ve been lost without all the help I received from the community!
Kindness is giving a bit of yourself. When you work for an animal welfare charity, you see and hear a lot of negative things. Neglect, cruelty, and ignorance are daily frustrations. But in a different way, it really restores your faith in humankind. There are some incredible people who literally dedicate their lives to the cause, caring for and nurturing all the animals that come their way, whether those are cats, dogs, turtles, or even seals; they never give up hope. They have patience and resilience that I can only admire. And then there are the random good-doers who take time out of their days to stop and make a difference by bringing in an animal in need, even if it interferes with their plans; and the people who support the charity financially so the wheels can keep on turning. This can only be described as kindness.
Once I lifted my eyes beyond the bad-news-fog, I saw kindness everywhere. A friendly neighbour, a helpful passer-by. Sparks of light in what sometimes feels like a grey corner of the world.
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