We wear emotions in different ways: on our faces, in our actions, inactions or reactions. While sometimes we keep emotion hidden and controlled, we don’t always get to choose the style. Frequently, our emotions are out before we can control them, particularly in sad or stressful times, when we live with our hearts on our sleeves and our feelings on our faces. It’s in these times that the reactions of others can matter the most. And when a stranger offers an unexpected kindness, it can be just the tonic we need.
Kindness, too, can take different forms, from a smile to a word or from a look to a gesture. Kindness is something we have abundantly as potential and can never be wasted.
For we hustle and bustle through life in close proximity to many a stranger, sometimes without truly seeing anyone. Day in, day out, we are surrounded by our fellow humans with whom we sometimes don’t make so much as eye contact. It seems to make us uncomfortable to do so. Yet often we need the kindness of strangers, we need some help with our feelings, we need a gesture from a unknown.
The other day I was at the airport queuing to board. I hate flying and to avoid faffing about when I got on the plane, I’d taken out my book, journal and pencil case ready so that when I got to my seat, I could throw them down, store my bag and absorb myself in colouring or writing as a means to calm myself down. Edging forward, a man who I had previously and silently cursed for pushing in remarked that there was no rush, we all had a seat. I knew he had a point, and, panicking that my thoughts weren’t as well hidden as I’d thought, I engaged in some small talk with him.
Now, I should say that this boring story isn’t boring when I live it. Usually, getting on a plane is a dramatic moment. I feel warm and clammy, like I can’t hear properly, and like my heart is about to burst out of my chest. As I said, I really don’t like flying. Therefore, as I shuffled forwards, it was nice to have someone to exchange pleasantries with until it became my turn to go through.
That was when the trouble started.
The woman in front of me dropped something and I panicked for her, drawing her attention to the item. Meanwhile, I went and dropped my notebook containing my German flashcards, which of course spread across the floor leaving a line of business-y travellers tutting at me. (I actually don’t know if any of them did tut. I just presumed they did because it was a) annoying that I was holding them up and b) I always presume people are annoyed at me.)
I flapped about a bit, feeling 100 angry travellers’ eyes burrowing into me, trying to gather things up whilst apologising (in English, German and Denglicsch) as well as trying to get through the boarding gate which had, in the meantime, started to beep angrily. Red raced and feeling foolish, I heard previously-queue-jumping-turned-chatty man tell me to take my time. He then smiled as I headed through towards the plane.
It took me some time to reorganise myself once in the tunnel therefore, when smiling man caught up to me, I apologised for holding him up and he did something incredibly kind. He, very simply, very friendlily, patted the top of my arm and said, “don’t worry.”
Then he disappeared off into the plane.
I tell you now, I could not pick that man out of a line up if you paid me. But I can mentally feel the comfort of that pat on the arm. I can remember how it brought me down from my stupid flapping about. I can remember how it made me feel calm, reconnected to the present rather than up in a world of worry and overreaction. To him, it and I were probably forgotten before the fasten seatbelt sign went on. For me it was the perfect gesture at the perfect time.
We don’t always have control of our emotions, but we do have control of our kindness. And kindness is always best worn loud and proud, in actions and words, and in the knowledge that the smallest of gestures can mean an awful lot.