To Bee Honest,
I often have conflicting emotions to images, videos and discussions of individuals charitable acts such as visits to orphanages or helping strangers out of tight financial situations. I understand the need for institutions to document charitable acts as a form of accountability. In those instances, I view the people in the pictures or videos as playing a role, they reassure donors and contributors that their funds are not being misused. However, when the posting or sharing is carried out by individuals my feelings more complex. I believe that those posts can and do spur others to their own individual acts of kindness, but sometimes I just wonder when it crosses over from altruism to a form of humble bragging. With that in mind, I was a bit conflicted about this post. Then I remembered that my readership is basically my mothers and a handful of others who love me, so there’s probably no harm in sharing.
Yesterday, I got off the train with happy thoughts of home on my mind. As I turned up the volume of my podcast and stuck my headphones more firmly in my ear something made me glance over my shoulder. I saw a smallish older man struggling to move two big boxes and one piece of hand luggage. My first thought was to turn around and continue to my bus, my house and get started on my to-do list. Yet, as I watched him look around with a somewhat lost look in his eyes, attempt to move and have one box fall, I was magically propelled towards him. “Can I help you?”, I asked. The look he gave me! I don’t think anyone has ever looked at me as though I was the answer to all their prayers rolled up in one. Very dramatic description I know, but I really have never been on the receiving end of such a look of gratitude.
As we walked he explained that he always felt compelled to travel with items that could be used by people back home in Kenya, and that frequently left him with too many bags. Probably what he did not add was that he is getting on in years. I can imagine that 10 years ago, or maybe even 5, he could have handled the bags with much more ease. We got to curb and I waited until his daughter pulled up, said goodbye and walked away.
This is probably extremely narcissistic, but helping this stranger I will most likely never meet again, with my time left me on cloud nine. But my euphoria soon had me wondering, if helping felt this good what made me hesitate this time and in many other situations?
The first answer was the priority I bestowed on my almighty To Do List. What did I have to get done? Well I needed to get to butcher and grocery before they closed at 18:00. Then I needed to make dinner and spend some time reviewing some important documents but also make it into bed at a decent time. I mean, all important and good things for my life but in the grand scheme of things not issues of life or death. Yet for reasons such as these my usual mode of operation is: step off the train with headphones in place, keep head down and run for bus or train. Most times I do not even notice the person that might need help because I am too busy trying to get to the next activity that will keep me busy.
The second answer was, ‘fear’. Fear of rejection. If you have never been rejected count yourself extremely lucky because rejection stings. Linked with the fear of rejection was a fear of appearing a fool. It was rush hour, so there were probably hundreds of people flowing off the trains. While I am not deluded enough to think all eyes were on me, it would be equally unrealistic to expect that no one would have noticed my abrupt move towards this gentleman. What if he rudely, loudly, firmly or all three told me to mind my business?
Do these reasons sound silly to you? They definitely did to me as I attempted to put my feelings into words. I can imagine that there’ll be memory lapses in the future as I attempt to make it to an afspraak (appointment in Dutch) or just my cosy home. However, I hope that the memory of this old man, will hover somewhere in my subconscious and prompt me to slow down and pay attention to opportunities for random and truly cheap acts of kindness. Maybe, just maybe, that was the only point of this post, a reminder of the moment.