A week ago I had the flu. Or a stomach bug with flu-like symptoms. Or maybe it was something I ate. I only know that it knocked me out and kept me down for two days. And emotionally, I was a shaking, sobbing, sack of bones. It's not unusual for me to feel a little weepy when I'm under the weather, but I was especially so in this particular instance...mostly because of the amount of kindness that came my way. (Yes, that's right. Everyone was just so damn nice, I couldn't take it.) ... When my nausea hit me, I was at an office space I share with a bunch of other writers; none of us are really coworkers, but I guess we consider ourselves colleagues on some levels. And I've made friends there too, though those relationships manifest themselves in somewhat restrained ways while we're in the confines of this library-like workspace room where there's no speaking. I needed to get home, but I didn't even know if I have the physical wherewithal to haul myself downstairs and into a cab without tossing my breakfast or passing out first. As I leaned against the wall of a bathroom stall, a friend who followed me in my dash to the restroom laid a wet cloth on the back of my neck. She stood beside me, her hand just resting there on my neck, not seeing my eyes fill with tears as I stared at the toilet.
That was the first of many gestures, including a cab driver shuttling me home without turning on the meter (though he may have been so freaked out I was going to vomit in his cab, it could have just been a forgetful moment on his part), and text messages coming in with offers to drop off food or medicine.
Each one of these things made my heart ache with fullness. We grow up. We move away from our parents. We learn to take care of ourselves without our mothers' caring touches when we get sick. Some of us have our own children to care for now. But that distinct taste I get in my mouth when I'm sick has never changed, and probably never will. No matter how old, I'll always want my mom to bring me toast and milky tea with honey when I'm feeling ill, and I'm sure I'm not the only one. When you live alone in a city like New York, it's easy to fall into the abyss and feel alone in this world, especially when you're down—physically, mentally, emotionally. Everyone's so preoccupied by their busy lives and goings-on, it can be intimidating to reach out and ask for help. But I think many New Yorkers most especially recognize this, instead offering aid before waiting for its request. It's that consideration in such a simple gesture that makes such a significant impact.
As I age and set goals for myself—the person I want to become, the traits and characteristics I want to embody—those ideals and their realities tend to evolve over time. But kindness is the one that persistently stands out above the rest.
I recently came across George Saunders' commencement speech at Syracuse University last year. Here's what he had to say on the importance of kindness.