People keep asking me what it’s like to be back home. Well, first, I’m not exactly back home. As I’ve mentioned, I’m currently staying at a friend’s place in Vancouver, Canada. Then again, I don’t think those of you who’ve asked actually mean home, as in my house. You seem to be asking, “What’s it like to be back in North America after spending nearly a year traveling around the world and immersing yourself in other cultures?” In the beginning (a very biblical-sounding phrase), it was truly a culture shock. Everyone seemed to be in a hurry and, well, a little whiny. There was the man at the airport (LAX) who I accidentally tapped on the head, ever so lightly, with my elbow, before apologizing. He felt the need to be as dramatic as a five-year old whose mommy won’t buy him a lollipop, rubbing it and saying loudly, “Just what I needed to wake up, to be smacked in the head.” (Um, perhaps you actually do need to be smacked in the head.) Then there was the lady in line at Starbucks (Vancouver) who refused to allow me back in place after I’d stepped out for ten-seconds to ask the security man if I could bring it on the ferry. Still, it’s not like I didn’t run into rude people everywhere in the world. I also met some very kind and friendly people. Today, I decided to be one of those kind and friendly people.
It’s Thanksgiving in America and, while Canada celebrates Thanksgiving, they do so on a different day. When I realized I’d be alone on Thanksgiving I only really know two people in Vancouver and both are out of town – I considered my choices; I could stay inside, read friends’ social media updates and feel sorry for myself, I could go out and attempt to forget what day it is, or I could embrace the spirit of the season and perform some random acts of kindness. I choose the last one.
Random acts of kindness don’t have to be grand gestures, nor must they be for the benefit of someone less fortunate. Everybody has tough days and sometimes, all it takes is a small kindness to turn that frown upside down, show an attitude of gratitude, uh, simply make someone’s day a little less rotten. After a stop at the Looney Store (the Canadian dollar coin is called the Loonie so, apparently, this store sells crazy people, though they sell them very cheap), as well as at the florist and the bakery, I set out on the mean streets of North Vancouver (okay, so they’re not exactly mean, this isn’t Compton after all).
As I begin my walk, I see a man dressed in hospital scrubs and I ask if he works at the nearby hospital. He tells me he does, and I hand him a candy cane and thank him for his good work. I continue on and share candy canes with a police officer, a construction worker, an Indian, a cowboy. . . oh wait, that would be the Village People; it’s just the police officer and the construction worker. Oh, and a couple of homeless men, the owner of the bakery who supplied me, free of charge, with some crackers and energy bars to give out, a grocery store worker and some random other folks.
I then stop in a Starbucks and give the cashier CAD$5.00 while asking her to use it to pay for the coffee of the lady standing in line. I continue down the street where I see a storefront labeled “Cash Your Check Here”. I figure they might have a lower-income clientele so I tie one of the two winter scarves I’d bought at the Looney Store to a pole in front with a note offering it to anyone who might be cold. I hang the other one on a pole at a nearby bus-stop.
As I continue my walk, I come across a lady with a very cute Yellow Labrador puppy. The dog is donning a vest which tells me he’s training to be an assistance dog. Oh wow, a dog after my own heart. I explain what I’m doing – Random Acts of Kindness – and why I’m doing it – I’m American, it’s Thanksgiving, and I’m alone in a foreign country (I explain this many times today) – and ask if this hardworking dog might be allowed to accept a treat from me. Understanding that kindness matters to dogs too, I came prepared with a box of MilkBone Dog Biscuits. I also understand that this dog is working and I don’t want to mess up his training. Sure enough, this puppy’s handler tells me he can only have certain treats at specific times. Still, she’s very touched and begins to cry as she asks if she can hug me. You see, it’s not always about the item, it’s about the gesture. I give her a hug, with a candy cane chaser, and wish her a good day.
I stop in another loonie store (this one is actually a Dollar Store) and, as I’m standing in line to pay for my two packs of stickers and a colorful pinwheel, I hear the unmistakable sound of a child having a tantrum directly outside. I peek out the door and see a girl – perhaps three-years old – pointing at some Santa Claus item while her mom provides a kind but firm, “No, you can’t have it.”
Understanding the important lesson that mom is trying to teach, ‘No, you cannot have everything you want,’ while also teaching lessons of my own, ‘Kindness matters,’ I point at the pinwheel in my hand and ask quietly, “Can she have this?”
Looking at me with slight confusion, mom asks nicely, “Did you already pay for it?”
“I’m just about to. Here.” After waiting for this, now calm, little girl to say her thank-you, I pick up one more pinwheel, step back inside and pay for my huge $3.00 purchase.
As I walk further along, I pass a bus stop where I see a lady sitting on a bench, looking chilly while waiting for the bus. She has the look of someone who has seen better days and whose life might be far from easy. I pull out the flower I’d purchased earlier today and, as I hand it to her, I tell her that I hope it brightens her day just a bit. She looks at me as if she doesn’t understand what I’m saying so I repeat my spiel about Thanksgiving, random acts of kindness, yadayadayada, and she gives a small smile before saying a quiet thank you. I hope it brightened her day ever so slightly.Further down a side street, I walk into a second-hand store where I find a box of children’s books. After a quick browse through I come across a book called, The Day the Crayons Quit, a great story, told from the view of a little boy’s crayons. I buy that book along with a couple of plush toys for a little girl who’s standing in line with her dad behind me. When they’d come inside a minute earlier, he told the clerk that a man had just picked up a plush toy and walked away. I think we all figured that, if he needed to steal a fifty-cent, donated stuffed animal, perhaps he really wanted to give it to someone but couldn’t afford it. As I exit the store, the father points down the street to the man. I approach him and hand him a Looney, saying that I would have paid for it and that he might want to return to pay for it now. I doubt that he does, but today isn’t about judging.
I head back up the street and spot what looks like two teachers and a group of preschool kids crossing the street. I stop the teachers and explain my activity while pointing to the candy canes in my bag and asking if the children might be able to have some. The teacher explains that, though she’d love to accept, they’re not allowed to bring sugar to the classroom. (I worked with kids and totally understand this.) I then take out the crayon book and one little girl shouts out, “I have that book!”
“You do?” I say excitedly. “Which is your favorite crayon?”
“The red one!” she shouts.
Another girl pipes in, “I like the red one too!”
“I like the purple one!” I say, as I ask the teacher if I might donate this book to them.
The teacher thanks me and we wish each other a great day.
As I walk further up, I meet a few more dogs to share treats with and two little kids to give packs of stickers to. They’re both so excited that it takes a great amount of prodding from their moms to get them to say their thank-yous, which I patiently wait for as it’s important to help parents teach kids good manners.
Finally, I approach a guy I’ve seen before. He sits outside the grocery store at which I’ve become a regular customer. He has a beat-up, old bike trailer – the kind which normally holds kids – behind his bicycle. His carries all of his possessions – a sleeping bag, some extra blankets, food, and a guitar. I sit and talk with him for a few minutes. His name is Damon and he’s both a songwriter and a guitarist. He tells me about a few of his friends on the streets and I offer him a flannel blanket (another Dollar Store find). He graciously accepts both that and a candy cane as he tells me that he normally sleeps here because the police don’t bother him and the grocery store provides him and his friends with soup.
There are many random acts of kindness which people and businesses do on a daily basis. If you look hard enough you might find them. If you don’t find them, do some kind acts yourself. You may find yourself noticing more and more.
Need some more ideas on random acts of kindness? I actually did one per day for a week once, and wrote about it here.