human kindness

Yesterday a hearty dose of human kindness came my way, an antidote against the cynical thinking to which I have become increasingly prone.

red bicycle leaning against wooden structure with yellow flowers

I rode my bike to complete an errand about three miles from home. I took one route there and a different route back. The route back would have been more difficult and dangerous anyway, because it involved passing the entrance/exit areas of several businesses on a main thoroughfare, riding uphill on a narrow sidewalk with high walls on both sides, and then—what I didn’t know when I started—running out of sidewalk altogether. The cherry on top? I decided to try this route at 5 pm. Oops.

As I approached the first business exit I noticed a driver in her car, awaiting the chance to turn left across two lanes and attempt to join the flow in the opposite direction. “She’s focused on making the turn; she’s not going to notice me,” I thought to myself.

I didn’t need to get home in a hurry, and besides, I’d rather get home slowly than be in an accident, so I braked. But the driver did see me rolling up on her left. In fact, she glanced over her shoulder, put her car in reverse, and made it abundantly clear that she was going to wait on me.

Pleasantly surprised, I gave a wave and a smile of thanks, passed in front of her, and cautiously proceeded home. I abandoned that busy route for a quieter residential one as soon as I could, but before then two more people did the exact same thing–backed up to signal a clear intention to let me pass, even though it meant missing opportunities to turn out of the parking lots where they waited. A fourth driver pulled the reverse-and-wait at a four-way stop in the residential area.

Maybe the fact that this floored me means that I’m letting myself get too cranky, but let me tell you, I felt far from cranky after that. As the scenario unfolded my thinking was, “I am the vulnerable, potentially invisible one. I will be patient and careful because others, with their own concerns in mind, may cut me off if I try to put myself first.” (Cynicism disguised as maturity.)

But what they said back to me, using actions rather than words, was, “You are the vulnerable, potentially invisible one but we see you. We honor your need to pass by in safety, and we sacrifice our own immediate goals to make a way for you.”

It took me about twenty minutes to get home, which means that, on average, this positive message played out for me once every five minutes. I couldn’t wait to tell my husband about it! How about you? How have you experienced the kindness of others? Did you expect it or were you surprised?


he struggles

I just read that the name Israel probably means “he struggles with God.” Wow. This week I had a conversation with a friend about how we struggle in our faith. We question its place in a pluralistic society. We revisit certain doubts over and over. So I find it encouraging to read that Israel is named for struggle.

That means God knows us as we really are. Israel was the name of a man before it became the name of the nation of his descendants, but what man and nation share is a history of struggle. Israel was born Jacob, the conniving twin of Esau; the man who dreamed of angels on a stairway from earth to heaven; the man who wrestled with God. Much like him, I have pretended to be what I am not. I have dreamed big, then gone back to my old ways of living. I have tried to take hold of God with the same demand Jacob made after fighting all night: “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”

The blessing in Jacob’s case was a new name. The blessing in my case is knowing that God understands. He may not answer all my questions, at least not right away. When Jacob asked, “Please tell me your name” he only replied, “Why do you ask my name?” But Jacob, now Israel, knew. He said, “I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.”

I think sometimes we believe that God doesn’t want anything to do with us until we have our lives and our thoughts in order. Doesn’t this prove otherwise?