Maybe I’m noticing kindness more because the world is such an insane and cruel place these days. Because not a day passes when something awful doesn’t happen, like monster hurricanes and earthquakes that wipe out whole islands and communities. Among those killed in the Mexico City earthquake were 11 people who gathered in a church to celebrate the baptism of a baby girl. The baby died, too.
It seems like every day something horrendous takes my breath away. A college president hosting black students with cotton centerpieces. Naval nurses flipping off babies on social media and holding an infant, making it dance to rap music.
The president of the United States calling a murderous dictator with an itchy trigger finger “Rocket Man,” and his supporters giggling as if when things go south, which at this rate should have been yesterday, his supporters will somehow be spared.
You get the idea.
Even with all that, all that, I’ve started to notice this civility, these small acts of kindness – especially on my commute. People holding doors for each other. Smiling, even. Helping each other out. Cutting each other a break.
Not everyone, of course. This is Philly. But enough to notice.
The other day, I watched a middle-aged black man rushing to catch the bus. Behind him, an elderly white couple was doing the same. The husband was in a wheelchair. It was clear that the couple wasn’t going to make it. And then the other man turned around and told them not to worry: He’d get to the bus and make sure it didn’t leave without them.
I stood there and watched him do exactly what he promised and thought: Maybe this isn’t accidental. Maybe these acts of kindness aren’t all random. Maybe this is what we do when the world comes undone. Our way to cope when so much feels out of our control.
When I posed the question to readers, some said I haven’t been paying enough attention or giving people enough credit, that every day the world proves itself to be better than we think. We just need to stop focusing on all the noise.
But others shared their own stories. I especially liked this one from Bridget Kernan, of Philadelphia:
The other day Kernan fell while walking on Chestnut Street. “Totally wiped out,” she explained. “Face first, dropping all of my bags.”
Before she knew what had happened, a young black man grabbed her bags and her hand to help her up.
He made a comment about the trolley tracks tripping her, making her feel less awkward about falling. He told her she should take a minute to catch her breath.
“It wasn’t just that he wanted to make sure I was OK before I got back on my way,” she wrote to me. “He convinced me that I COULD dust myself off and get back on my way. Like, it’s OK – you got this.”
His kindness, she said, made her feel like she wasn’t alone. He was gone before she knew it, but she hopes he reads this so she can thank him properly.
Maybe I’m suffering from a wicked case of wishful thinking as the world turns into a bigger dumpster fire. But right now, I want to focus on the kindness. I need to, and I don’t think I’m alone.
I want to believe that maybe, just maybe, through these little acts of kindness we can find our way back to one another, to some sanity.
Helen Ubiñas is a columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News.
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