It becomes easy to focus on what seems bad in the world. It becomes easy to set our sights on outrage, lies, deception, greed, and stupidity. It becomes easy to pass the outrage along, to mock, to even grow cruel from a sense of powerlessness or grief.
The good news is this: in general, people want to be generous, kind, thoughtful, and loving.
Tuesday of this week, someone who had been doing work exchange for me decided to take a hiatus from one part of our arrangement. I asked if I should find someone else to do the tasks she had taken on. She replied that no, there wasn’t too much work to do and she was volunteering for Solar Cross, which does other good things. I felt grateful, but didn’t think much of it until later that afternoon.
It was a very busy day at the house of hospitality (aka “the soup kitchen”). The state of the economy is seen clearly in the fact that lines are growing longer, and three giant pots of soup proved to not be enough. Emergency soup had to be made. We went through multiple gallons of soup, plus salad and bread. People remained cheerful. Dogs played in the sun. Conversations were had.
While we scrambled toward closing and clean up, a guest - I’ll call him Marcus - said “bring some bread bags and come sit with me awhile.” Now Marcus often doesn’t speak. Winter and summer he wears a watch cap and heavy jacket. Some days he reads the paper and will greet me. Other days he sits or stands near a corner and just watches, not interacting at all. I assume the latter are days that where mind and soul are in some difficult place, a place that Marcus can crawl up from only long enough to feed himself before receding once again. Tuesday was a “good” day. I replied that we were cleaning up so I couldn’t sit for long, but complied nonetheless. From his small duffle bag, Marcus brought out brand new boxes of fancy baked goods: ginger cookies, walnut brownies, nut bars, even pie. He had asked for the bags because he wanted to share his bounty and needed help. We figured out what he wanted to keep - which wasn’t much - and what he wanted to give away. He wanted to be sure that it didn’t all go to one person, but that I shared them out to as many people as I could.
Marcus was smart. He knew he needed to wait until the end of the day to offer his treats, when the crush was over and a couple of handsful of people remained, talking and packing up their belongings. He also couldn’t hand them out himself, being a person who barely interacts with others. As I brought the baked goods around, I made sure people knew they had come from Marcus. They were happy to get the treats. Before Marcus left, I told him that people were happy and grateful. I did not share with him that some of them seemed a bit puzzled when I pointed out who their benefactor was. Yes. The man who almost never speaks and sometimes won’t even look at you. The man whose coat and hat were ripped up and encrusted with life on the street until someone gifted him with new things four months ago.
And so the world goes around. Someone decided to continue to help me with my work load in the morning. That afternoon, rather than tell Marcus I was too busy to sit down, I brought the bags he requested, not knowing why. He generously passed on what he had been given – likely some day-old cookies from a local baker.
Marcus insisted on keeping the ingredients labels from the small bakery boxes. I have no idea why. His brain works in ways that are opaque to me. But his impulse toward kindness? I understand that. We all have it, even those whom we might look at while seeing only greed. Those people are kind to someone or something. Those people have their moments of generosity.
The good news is, sometimes there are cookies to share. The good news is, mostly, we want to be kind. Can we take a collective breath right now and open to generosity? Can we step away from news and scandal for an hour?
If you will, let’s share again our stories: when has kindness shown itself in your life?