I used to be bitchy.
It was part of the environment where I grew up – checking out other people, giving them the up-and-down once-over to see what they were wearing (never cool) and judging how they were not quite as hip as me and my crew.
I remember in my early 20s sitting at a bar with friends and all we could do was gossip. Did you hear about so-and-so… Like we’d never left high school.
It took a long, long time but eventually I evolved into a less surface person and got to the root of who I really am. Turns out, I’ma really nice person who likes being nice.
I smile when I have a positive exchange with a cashier at CVS or a janitor in the halls of my children’s school. When I show them gratitude and ask about their day, it makes ME feel good.
Yesterday, I went into the drug store on an errand and an old man with tattoos covering his skinny arms said, “Good morning!” He was removing the garbage from the canister outside the store and lining it with a new garbage bag. And he was as happy as the sun.
“Good morning,” I said, with a smile.
“Have a great day,” he said, as I walked through the automatic door.
“You too!” I called back.
The whole time I walked the aisles shopping for my vitamins and soap and gum, I was smiling. A simple interchange with a person I didn’t know, and it just made me feel so good. So noticed. So whole.
When I got to the register, the older woman behind the counter smiled at me. She told me the total and I gave her money, but I kept miscounting and stumbling over what I wanted to give her. “Wow, I guess I’m moving slowly today,” I said.
“No problem!” Her smile never faded. “It’s just another day.”
“Yes, and there’s math involved, so I’m never fast with that,” I said.
She agreed that she was equally slow with math-in-the-head and a conversation began. I told about my son who is a math whiz, and she mentioned her husband, also good at math. We commiserated over not being quick with sums. Finally, I mustered up the right currency and handed it over. She handed me a ream of receipts and my bag of items, and I tucked my change into my wallet and wished her a good day. “You too,” she called out.
It feels good to smile at people. It feels good to be kind. And it feels good to get it back.
We don’t do good for others because of what we get in return (at least I hope not!) but rather because it is the right thing to do. And it’s right because that’s what makes a happy life – helping others, smiling at strangers, stopping to hold a door, looking out for other people.
It doesn’t matter if we know them and actually, the highest form of charity is one where I don’t know who I’m giving to and he doesn’t know who’s giving to him.
It’s just soul-nourishing to be of service in this life. It takes us farther than working round-the-clock or maintaing a high level of suspicion and competition. And it’s a much healthier way to live.
As I drove out of the drug store parking lot, my car was not far enough over to the right to allow another car to turn in. A man in a car approached the driveway and I realized how much room I was taking up and scrambled to correct it.
Still, he was swearing and gesturing at me from behind his windshield. “I’m sorry!” I called. “I really didn’t realize it!”
His angry look had me in a panic, and I immediately felt badly that I had misjudged and not looked out for the possibility of the arrival of others.
Which way would you prefer to live? Smiles and kindness or angry gestures?
I know my answer.