Jan 28, 2013

A baggie full of spoons

Three things happened today to startle me.

7:40 am at the Convenience store
An elderly man held a door open for me from inside the 7-eleven I was entering to grab a cup of Joe before catching my morning train to work. His jacket was faded and well washed. The crease on his faded navy pants was ironed and sharp. There was an insignia I couldn't read on his cap and lapel.
       My head had been down against the bitter cold and the sinus headache pounding at my temples since 7 am. So when the door opened on its own and stayed opened to let me in I looked up, startled, at that weather beaten face and sputtered an undoubtedly strange 'THANK you, SIR!!'. He grinned back a good natured 'Your'e WELCOME, MA'AM' before he slipped out.
    It was not until I  was dazedly stirring the sugar into my paper cup of 'Green Mountain Breakfast Blend' that I felt the first twinge of regret. Why hadn't I squeezed his arm quickly as I brushed past him? I know I wanted to. Or found a few quick words to tell him how good it felt to be taken care of in that small but important way on that particularly painful morning. That his consideration, even if it stemmed from an outdated sense of chivalry was about to alter the quality of my entire day. My headache still had me in it's grip but there was a slight lessening of the vague anxiety of the morning that yet another painful sinus ordeal was unfolding to plague me this dreadful winter. Whatever it was, I felt just a little less beleagueared.

1 pm at the first floor coffee shop at work
Said headache amped up by lunch time as the pseudoephedrine wore off. The chills I'd had all morning were getting annoying too. They sometimes have good soup downstairs and the blind veterans who run the store are nice. My second paper cup of the day held my favorite Italian Wedding Soup whose steaming chicken broth was sure to put a silver bullet in my whiny sinuses. I passed on the  paper bag in keeping with my son's reminder last night to try and be kinder to the earth and edged out of the tiny shop balancing a teetering pile that went cup-spoon-napkin-wallet. My poorly conceived stacking order wasn't helped any by the chills that were still shaking me. I dropped the spoon and napkins right by the front door.
      Another elderly veteran (I'm going to assume my gentle friend from the morning was one, by the way) was rushing out the door that had slid open at just that moment. A gush of frigid Boston air scattering my napkins efficiently all over the grimy floor of the airlock.
      This one was grizzled too. Lined, lean face and shockingly white hair. Dark cotton clothes,  functional parka and a smart bookbag slung over one shoulder. After collecting my things for me, he knelt and unzipped a side compartment in his bag. He pulled out this baggie of individually wrapped plastic spoons and balanced it carefully atop my newly restored pile:

A baggie of spoons at 2 pm

"Don't use the spoon you dropped. The Flu's going around and the Veterans' Health services is just here on the 2nd floor. Germ central." He told me he had plenty more as he zipped and re-shouldered his bag. Apparently he collects them to take to school. (He goes to school! He collects individually wrapped takeout spoons and packs them in snack sized baggies. He pulled out the only one in his bag, that he keeps there for HIS own use at school, and handed it to me, brooking no objection.)
I was still weakly protesting "But YOU need it for school..." as he bounced purposefully out the door.

Later that day, distracting myself from headaches and other woes.
Read this blog post from MadMomma:
     She cites a touching personal incident from safer times in Delhi some years ago. It was still tricky to navigate the city as an unchaperoned woman, but not fatal nearly as often as now. For context: in mid-December 2012, a 23 yr old student was gangraped and killed while travelling on a sparesly populated public bus at night with a friend. In the above post MadMomma, an opinionated, articulate and sensitive young woman, makes a public plea on her much followed blog for mass opinion to shift mindfully towards a woman's right to be safe on the streets vs. her responsibility to be cautious. Delhi has always had a shameful history of casual violence towards women so many lay opinions have shockingly but also somewhat pragmatically (if you look at it from their POV), placed on young women the entire responsibility for their own safety. Of course, many reasonable people will see the the fatal flaw in this attitude that excuses men from all accountability. As MadMomma puts it "Every time you think she should have avoided going out late, she should have taken an auto, she should have, she should have, she should have, you’re missing the point. It’s not what she should have. It’s what he SHOULDN’T have."
Quick aside: To me the core reason for this puzzlingly morally skewed attitude in the average population of presumbly not-evil folks, lies in the fatalism inherent in our culture. People who feel powerless to change the world they live in, see reason in making whatever compromises are called for in order to ensure their own safety within an essentially broken system. They make small bubbles of thoughtlessness that coalesce into larger bubble of indifference and unwittingly perpetuate the very disregard they love to hate...but that's for another post. Maybe. :-)

So anyway, I full agree with MadMomma. But I'll remember this blog post of hers because of the shout-out to humanity it includes in the memory she chooses to share. While vocal advocates of gender equality make their necessary strides to alter public perceptions and demand more effective laws, I think we need more positive reminders of all that is right too.

Maybe it's as important to show people HOW to act as we are denouncing how NOT to act. Of course, it's idiotic to assume a man has to be told to not assualt a women but the truth is, that is the culmination of a thousand other mindless trespasses that preceded it, that flew under the radar and that men exercise with impunity on a daily basis. So we don't  want 'eve teasing' and condescension for women but what are we asking for in their place? Just chanting 'respect' and 'equality' does'nt translate to a hill of the proverbial rajma beans. What exactly does it mean?

How about freindship, understanding and the relaxing of rigid perceptions of gender sterotpyes?
Would it be as easy to rape a women when you'd watched the test match last night with a platonic female freind? Would you be able to snatch away a an unwilling dupatta if you'd shared a cup of tea and a chat with your sister's freind that morning? Why not even shift the focus from rape and speak of kindness to each other for a change. Imagine how THAT could trickle down!

What would happen if on one fine day we all woke up infected with a virus that made us be gentle, mindful and kind to everyone we met casually? The old man who offered MadMomma tea and stories that cold Delhi night when she was lost and scared, is still around. MANY such good folk are around. I believe (I HAVE TO believe) they are edged out into the margins of our collective consciousness by the more bestial facets of human nature that reveal themselves to us. Maybe it's because we have a sense of entitlement and expect kindness and goodness as the default state (even as we swear that it no longer is, if it ever was). Maybe bad news just establishes more lasting claims on our emotional bandwidth by virtue of its shock factor. And maybe we need to reclaim the importance of goodness and show it as the wonderful yet easy-to-excercise thing that is really is.

My 7-eleven Veteran, The Spoon-Samaritan and MadMomma's bus driver - they are as much a part of our society as the broken people who haunt our nightmares. For every deranged adolescent who murders innocent children in their classroom there is a 17 year old who wordlessly retrieves an errant soccer ball for a pre-schooler in the playground and kicks it around for a few minutes just to get him to giggle. For every disenfranchised youth who unleashes the kind of senseless violence that can only come from an entire lifetime's worth of cultural conditioning, on a blameless young women - there is a hard working, old bus driver who takes a few extra minutes to comfort and aide a young stranded college student.

I'm willing to bet that these human human's far outnumber the beasts amongst us. I think they nod at us and catch our eye in a hundred subtle and instinctive gestures that even they do not realize they have made, let alone us.

And I think we should each share more stories of people who are good, kind and helpful. Maybe we will all feel more validated, connected and inspired to make the eminently easier choice to be kind to each other. I'm sure that it's actually easier than maintaining a cold indifference.

Today showed me that all you have to do is hold open a door, offer to share your spoons or chat about a hot cup of tea with a nervous young girl.

POSTSCRIPT: Turned out that raging Sinus headache that had me in it's grip was really the onset of Chicken Pox. More here for how THAT experience went.....

Age 6 - "The President should tell all the companies that make weapons to stop. What would they have wars with then? I think that's what he should do."


  1. Beautiful. These are the very people who reinforce our belief in the world and make life beautiful. I can so relate to someone openign a door at 7/11 - happened to me too and I always want to hug that person :)

  2. Thx Kismit: glad it resonated. I just browsed your blog and can see why. Quite thrilled to find a fellow silver-liner ....I see you too seek the silver linings and find them a lot. Really enjoyed your posts and intend to trawl the older ones soon. Would you like to koon me in adding a section to each blogpost to record random acts of kindness? We need to spread more of this around.

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    1. I think the new generations of Oyon's will make sure that the silver linings will be silver clouds with just a tiny dark lining. I love this little guy. Best of you and Sho.

  4. The Writer: from your word to whoever's mouth. A dear freind of mine tells me that we each have the equivalent of a bright red door in our otherwise mundane, pallid lives. It holds the promise of joy and unbound imagination that lay right behind it. If only we could each unleash the 'magic' behind it. You are a wonderful writer and I look forward to hearing much more from you. Thanks for chiming in here. Here's to more silver clouds and red doors. :-)