About a week before Christmas I was walking out of a store along Colfax Avenue in Denver. Unexpected snow had fallen a few days prior, making many of the sidewalks slippery. In a rush, I walked swiftly out of the store and less than a block later found myself momentarily airborne as a patch of ice had gotten the best of me.
My time in the air was short. Before I could brace myself, I was lying on the cold cement in pain (thankfully, no more than a bruised elbow!).
“Oh man! You ok?”, said the voice of the hand reaching for me to help me up.
A houseless man – middle-aged and disheveled – had extended a hand. More embarrassed about my fall than anything, I brushed myself off and said that I confirmed that I was fine. Thankful, and seeing the man’s condition, I asked if I could give him a few dollars. He declined. I asked if I could buy him a meal or a cup of coffee from the diner across the street. He again politely declined.
“There’s no charge for kindness”, the man said.
I couldn’t help but think about that statement during the rest of my walk home. Here was a man who had next-to-nothing. This is probably an individual ignored by the masses on a daily basis. A man who needs much turned down something small because he recognized that the value and demonstration of kindness should not come with a price.
In these contentious times, I cannot help but think that it is people like this kind man on the street that should not only be recognized, but applauded. Our culture is one that likes to praise vanity. We publicly argue about our political figures, many of whom are self-interested and who sometimes support measures that stand against helping those who so desperately need it. The kind man who helped me stood in beautiful defiance to the political and social rhetoric used against so many. If we are to recover from this year of political turmoil, we need to act likewise.
Lost in a year of yelling and blaming, I’ve asked myself how we, myself certainly included, can do better. Our communities are fractured, our families broken over disagreements about what we think is “right”. Tension and hostility permeate through the atmosphere. I don’t think that we have lost the ability to be kind. However, it does seem as though we have lost how to make time for kindness, both in recognizing it and demonstrating it toward others. The beauty about kindness, as it is a virtue connected to love, is that it is not dependent on agreement, a sense of security, or how much we actually “like” each other. Kindness exists nonetheless. We simply have to act on it. As Soren Kierkegaard once said, “One must take great pains to go and meet a man where he is at. This is the secret to the art of helping others.”
Like many, I believe that 2016 has been a difficult year that has often given us much to grieve. Yet I’m not about to blame a calendar year for this. The year is what we have made it, and our actions and words, specifically in regards to the election, have made this year poor. I celebrate it’s end, because inasmuch as New Years is largely a senseless holiday, it does serve as a turning point. 2016 is a year to forgot. But let’s immediately start to make 2017 a year grounded in kindness.