Kindness in Service
A few years back, I was travelling across one end of Canada to the other via the US. A detour on our road trip led us to a spontaneous few days in San Francisco. We stayed in a great place – The Hotel California – nestled right in the middle of the high end “richness” of downtown and the diverse area characterized by higher levels of poverty and other social challenges.
One morning, we were enjoying brunch in a neighbourhood diner. I was sitting facing the door to the street and enjoying one of my favourite pastimes – people watching. There was nothing particularly interesting going on. The diner was fairly busy when we arrived – the food was quick and tasty.
Eventually, the place started clearing out. There had been a large group of people sitting in a corner booth by the window. The server had not cleared their plates right away when suddenly, a woman flew through the door and grabbed two handfuls of food from the leftovers that remained on the table. We made eye contact as she backed her way out of the door – food in hand – and what looked like a crack pipe in her mouth.
There was no reaction from anyone in the diner – no one ran after her yelling with fists shaking in the air. I was struck by the realization that this might have been the only meal this lady had eaten in days. My gut told me that this was probably not the first time nor would it be the last.
A short while later, a gentleman inched his way into the diner, struggling to open the door and manage the huge bouquet of beautiful flowers he held in his arms. Bursting with colour and huge in size, the flowers were hard to miss. The gentleman appeared somewhat disheveled and seemed to have a few physical challenges.
He didn’t say anything – just glanced towards the server – who motioned for him to approach the counter. She picked through the bouquet and chose a few flowers then handed him some money. As he was leaving the diner, he seemed to get a little stuck in the doorway and was speaking softly – it seemed to himself. The server made a small gesture and nodded at him seemingly as a nudge to leave the diner now that their transaction was complete. He understood and was on his way.
Kindness is a Felt Experience
I could feel the tears welling in my eyes and the lump in my throat. What was it about what I had just witnessed that evoked such emotion in me?
I have to tell you – I have worked in human services and adult education for many years and I tend to view the world from my vocational perspective which has fed my curiosity about human nature and contributed to my personal and spiritual evolution in ways that I cannot fully describe in this article.
In a nutshell, I often find myself pondering the role of compassion and empathy in human services. I think about where these spiritual qualities come from and how we can encourage their expression within our lives. I believe inclusion and connection are the keys to creating a real sense of community in our society.
What I had witnessed – in my interpretation – was an act of service – an act of community service – that was focused on human dignity, inherent worth, a sense of contribution, and a love of mankind.
This server was not an overly friendly person; she didn’t have a big grin plastered on her face. She didn’t engage in the common niceties that we often identify with friendliness and service. But what she did – how she treated the individuals who came into the diner in what might be considered unorthodox ways – indicated to me a keen sense of respect and acceptance on her part.
What is a community? It’s a blend of people, diverse perspectives, a place where one can contribute and receive. True community acknowledges that we all have something to offer and something to learn and receive in our shared existence.
Value of our contributions cannot be measured in economic terms. And we can all contribute something of value regardless of our status in society. When we appreciate what another person brings to the table, we will grow in our sense of community and in our ability to cherish each other.
There was no attention drawn to the events that I had witnessed – in fact, I feel like I’m the only who noticed it. There was no attempt on the part of the server to try to “change” the behavior or encourage the individuals involved to do or be anything other than what was real in the moment. And there was no attempt to draw attention to herself or her actions. It just seemed a natural part of her day.
In a world where we so often see people at a disadvantage marginalized and oppressed – pushed to the fringes of our communities – in an attempt to make ourselves feel safer and less afraid of what we don’t understand – it was refreshing to see authentic recognition of basic humanity in the midst of what could have been interpreted as a sad scenario.
Refreshing is not a strong enough word. It was beautiful.
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Describe your most recent brush with an act of kindness.
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