Tuesday, March 18, 2014

We Are Not Weakened by Human Kindness

It was one of those really cold dreary days recently and Ingrid and I were on our way to the Half Price Book store to browse, mingle among the shelves, look for a good book, and get something hot to drink in the Black Forest Coffee Shop.

On our way we stopped at a traffic light and there on the corner, his face against the wind, a not nearly warm enough jacket on, was a small Latino man selling candy apples on a long wooden pole he held in front of him.

I looked at him and thought of all the mean things that are said about immigrants these days, documented or not; how so many in this country have no interest in giving them a fair chance at making a good life here; how they supposedly steal our jobs. I wondered if he had a wife and children at home he was trying to care for. How many men would brave the cold on a Saturday afternoon to sell apples?

The pole was full. I couldn’t tell he’d sold a single thing and I suspected he might have been there for some time. I commented on him to Ingrid and said something about how much I respected that man for what he was doing. She stared intently at him through the car window. There was a long pause and then she said, “Yeah. I think he’s really cold, Poppy.”

We went through the intersection but at the next street I turned the car around and headed back to where he was. He rushed over to us dragging the pole of apples with him. He smiled broadly. I spoke in broken Spanish to him and asked how much for each apple. He said, two dollars. I bought three and gave him a twenty. When he went to make change I said, “Just keep it. Try to stay warm.” He said, “Really?” and I said, “Yes sir,” and smiled back at him. As we drove off he kept bowing his head up and down and I wanted to go back and give him twenty more.

We seem to so lack today a fundamental respect for one another. For some reason too many of us fight the essential instinct to be kind, to care about people, even strangers, and to simply be untroubled with one another in our big human family.

Every day there are opportunities I miss to extend courtesy, to simply smile at someone, to say Thank You more, to get out of the relentless frenzy of urban life and just be glad to be here among all the people I encounter.

Almost all of us seem to have lost touch with gentleness, with the soft places in our hearts, with the capacity to feel for others in ways that affirm our humanity and lift us beyond the current demented selfishness that holds us as a society in so much anger and fear and mistrust.

Why are we always so ready to go to war, to spill the blood of people we don’t even know, and to sacrifice our own kids robbing them of health and life? For what? Not freedom. We are never free with so much blood on our hands. Why do we need so many guns and want to carry them with us so at any moment we are ready to pull the trigger against our neighbor? Why do we have to sneer at people different from us, seethe at their cultural diversity, their other language, their skin color, their religion, their political preferences, or their sexual orientation?

President Franklin Roosevelt, who knew something about war, poverty, and tough times, once said, “Human kindness has never weakened the stamina or softened the fiber of a free people. A nation does not have to be cruel to be tough.”

That insight, so full of what holds society together, floats around us today but fails to find its place in our hearts. We know the truth in it but we put it aside in order to remain in our abrasive indifference to one another.

Poet Naomi Shihab Nye once wrote that it is our losses that enable us to know what kindness really is. She said to have been without teaches us “how desolate the landscape can be between the regions of kindness.”

I have walked that landscape. So have you. Most of us have. 

I felt my losses in the face of the man with the apples and compassion gripped me. I want to always feel that. I never want to betray the instinct of kindness that makes me and all of us worthy to be here.

© 2014 Timothy Moody


  1. I think that as we run the various 'legs' of our own relay of life we are at times better able to see what surrounds us daily. I have blogged recently about the fact that the tugging of my own heart at this time in my life is to take off the blinders of self ego and instead 360* the world. It is a wonderful, sad, amazing, pathetic dichotomy of sights, sounds, smells, but more importantly human kind. What a wonderful tugging of the soul to walk away from a situation with eyes wide open.

    Martha Brannan

  2. Thank you, Martha. Very interesting thought.