On Being Insanely Nice*

Mrs. Cibber as Cordelia (King Lear), Yale Center for British Art

I’m headed to Birmingham, he said, softly kissing my sleeping face in the darkness. Be back tonight.

I swam hard for the shore of awake that I might properly tell him goodbye, have a good meeting, be safe. But of course by then he was gone, the sound of the garage door closing behind him. And so I lay there thinking of the dream I had just been in, wondering where the story came from, what it all meant. And in a matter of moments I was fully awake, ready to get on with the day.

Coffee in hand (yes, he made coffee for me before leaving), I opened my laptop to find this email among the heap of overnight arrivals.

I clicked, and here was Number One the list of 10 Insanely Nice Things You Can Say To Anybody.

1. “Take your time. I’m not in a rush.”

This one is great for the grocery store, the takeout burrito restaurant or anywhere else that involves really tired people trying their best, even as they fumble and flail. For example, the woman in front of you pays the cashier but then has to rifle through her overstuffed wallet to put away the change, then store the receipt, then mash the whole fat leather money accordion into her purse. She will usually complete this action with frantic fingers because she knows she’s delaying the whole line; she knows everybody just wants to go home; and she knows she should not save old, mostly-used-up gift cards with 63 cents on them. Telling her to “Take your time. I’m not in rush” always sets off the same reaction: first, surprise (really? because everybody’s in a rush…) and then a flash of sweet wide-open relief. You have just given somebody a three-minute holiday, not from the stress of life, but from the stress we put on ourselves.

Yes, I thought, remembering the power of my recent grocery store exchange. Yes, such a tiny little gesture, a gift returned to me in the kind acknowledgement of a stranger, this woman who, like me, is simply doing the best she can.

I clicked to #2. And #3. And on through Leigh Newman’s list of 10 Insanely Nice Things You Can Say To Anybody.

Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes. What important kindnesses to remember.

*As it turns out, this is a 2-part post. Part One: On Being A Not-Very-Patient Waiter

On Being A Not-Very-Patient Waiter*

Here is my process for choosing a grocery store checkout lane.

  1. Consider the length of the lines, of course.
  2. Look through the contenders to see what other complications might arise:
    1. the amount of stuff still in the cart(s)
    2. the likelihood of a dreaded price check
    3. kids, more than one
    4. a single child, but whining
    5. elderly
    6. coupons, for goodness sake

    And then this key consideration often missed by the general population:

  3. Assess the speed, aptitude and focus of the person doing the checking out AS WELL AS the person doing the bagging. (I could do a seminar on that one.)

It’s a practice I’ve honed through decades spent thinking Must Be Nice To Have All Dang Day.

~~~

Then at the beginning of this year, a rather strange thing happened to me. After a quiet Christmas holiday, I made the decision to move through my day with intention. That is to say, every time I felt in a rush, rather than going faster, I purposefully did the opposite.

It worked for a while. And then expectation and complication intervened and my grand commitment to intention nearly evaporated—with one significant exception. Now when a true obstacle is in my path (ie I’m stuck behind a logging truck), I can hear God’s voice saying Girl, Why Don’t I Help You Just  Slow. It. Down.

~~~

Just last week I ran into the grocery store, a stop I crammed into an already over-scheduled day. Not surprisingly, I was strategic in my choice of quickest exit lane. The woman just in front of me? Checkout line perfection.** Alone. Organized. Not interested in Jennifer Aniston’s ridiculously large engagement ring or award-winning crock-pot recipes. No coupon or cell phone in sight.

My cart and I pulled right in.

Things moved along perfectly, system working well as I quietly considered this woman and her grocery selections. And then with no warning, there was a minor complication in the scan-scan-scan process. And then another.

I could feel a twitch rising.

And just like that there it was, God’s voice reminding me to breathe, to relax, to simply wait. And so I did.

Eventually, the checkout process was complete. But before moving to follow her cart to the car, this thoughtful woman—with whom I had not even exchanged a glance—turned to me and said:

Thank you for being so patient. You have been a bright spot in my day.

I gave her an understanding smile, knowing it was true, knowing her life as well as I knew mine in that moment, busy, complicated, stretched. I thought about how little had been required of me; how I simply stood there conscious of the fact that she just needed a tiny bit of time, a tiny sliver of space.

And I considered the lovely gift she had given me in taking three seconds, precious as they are, to turn back and offer her thanks. What a lovely gesture, I thought. How unexpected. How nice.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

*This is a 2-part post, as it turns out. More to come tomorrow: On Being Insanely Nice

**Checkout line perfection, actually: Male; 55 years old; slim, athletic build; shopping solo; buying imported beer, 6-pack

Day 16: On Kindness

I’ve been on the road quite a bit lately. And as much as I love travel, being away from home, and from the office, has filled my life with such chaos I can’t seem to get my feet under me.

I was thinking about this very thing as I pulled into my neighborhood tonight after two days in Charlotte. I had spent the last 10 minutes of the drive thinking of all the things I need to get done and promising myself that—for once—I would actually make a list prioritizing those tasks. If I could go to bed feeling as if I had accomplished the right things, maybe some modicum of balance would return by morning.

As I turned into my driveway I saw my neighbor, Bruce, toting trash cans to the curb.

Dang, I thought. There’s something else I need to do.  And since I forgot Trash Day last week, this will really be a pain.

I had hardly gotten out of my car when Bruce appeared in my garage—still dressed in a tie from work—with an offer to take my trash and recyclables up my long driveway to the curb.

I thought you could use some help, he said.

A few minutes later, the car unpacked and mail sorted, my doorbell rang. It was Bruce’s daughter, Macie, delivering a bowl of chili and some just-out-of-the-oven cornbread.

Mom thought you might be hungry, she said.

I know my neighbors gave little thought tonight to these gestures. I have learned from living next door that it’s just their nature to give. (And as such, they are rearing two beautiful children who are learning some really valuable lessons.)

But it truly did make a big difference to me. My neighbors helped lighten my load, and in doing so, reminded me that there isn’t much in this world that is more important than kindness.

30 Days of Grace