The Kindness of Strangers
By Z Zoccolante
Ani DiFranco, whose music has gotten me through many rough periods of my life, has a song titled 32 flavors. In it, she has a line that says,
“Both my parents taught me about goodwill
and I have done well by their names.
Just the kindness I’ve lavished on strangers
is more than I can explain.” – Ani DiFranco
Kindness is something that can be misunderstood. It can often be seen as weakness. I’ve been told before that I should grow a thicker skin and that (not in these exact words but) I should be more of a bitch. What this person didn’t know is that it took me years and years to cultivate the kindness I showed.
They had no idea that years ago, I could have ripped apart their jugular and walked away with little remorse. I could have opened my mouth when I was in anger or triggered and let the knives fly. This violent trait cost me two friendships and so I’ve learned to hold my tongue and invisibly wire my mouth shut when my veins are on fire and I would like nothing more than to skin someone alive.
But in the end that is not kindness. That is weakness. To hurt someone just because you can. Just because you feel some type of way. Just because they hurt you. That is weakness.
I’m not saying stay and take it. Walk away. But don’t leave everything in a bloody mess when you do. Simply walk away. Know your own power and that you don’t have to do anything to prove yourself. You can simply step away, peacefully.
Kindness is an act of bravery. It’s a lot easier to tell someone they can go fuck themselves.
Kindness is a gift we give ourselves, so our own shoes aren’t soaked with blood.
Kindness is also an amazing gift we give to others, especially when they are strangers.
My motto is this: People are good, kind, wonderful, amazing. I believe this deep in my soul. I’m not delusional that people do shitty things. True, sometimes people are assholes, but they are also good, kind, wonderful, and amazing.
My ex-love was a truly amazing man. He showed up for me and showed me selfless love on many occasions. When I was with him I felt a sense of home, connection, and partnership in the world. It wasn’t that I didn’t appreciate the kindness of others but I think there was a comfort in having a solid partner. I’d be like, wow that stranger did something really cool. It would be a nice thought and then I’d go home to my solid partner and forget about it a little bit.
Now that I don’t have that connection, that partnership, that sense of home, I do feel alone in the world. Not alone alone, like oh my God there is no one here for me. I have many people who love me dearly and support me in my life. But I’m talking about that partnership where you’re doing life together like each of you has an oar in the rowboat and are paddling down the river of forever.
Until someone abandons ship and you’re left like, “What the fuck just happened?” And suddenly, seemingly overnight, you go from having a home to return to . . . to not. It’s bizarre. You’re left holding your own hand and both oars.
Now that I’m alone in my rowboat, it’s a different cool experience. I notice other people in their rowboats and sometimes we meet up to play, but at the end of the day I go home to my own little rowboat.
Ever since this happened, something shifted to where I notice the kindness of strangers so intimately it used to make me cry.
One recent experience was while I was at work in San Diego. There’s a sushi place near my stop that I’ve eaten at a few times. The first time I simply asked if I could use the bathroom and the man was so kind, unlike some store owners that give you the eye or say that the restrooms are for customers only. The next time I got sushi to go and he put a little light in my bag because it was dark outside and gave me water and an edamame snack.
This last time I decided to eat there. It was close to closing and there was only one table, a family, who was finishing up. I ordered a small veggie roll and said that I’d sit outside. I wanted to be in the open air. He brought out a glass with ice and a small bottled water and a miso soup. He brought out a plate of edamame and two little pieces of fruit to snack on while I waited. He brought out a clear glass filled with water and a yellow rose with a tiny light in the petals and set it on my table. He brought out my sushi and explained to me that he left out two of the ingredients because they were not completely vegetarian.
As he left my eyes took in my beautiful table filled with food and tender care. This man has such a heart of service I thought. I let a rose petal slide between my fingers as I smiled. This man has a way of making every customer, no matter how small their order, feel so incredibly special and cared for. This is a gift.
My heart expanded as I ate, full of gratitude for acts of kindness, for the ways he has no idea how he made me feel special and cared for. I felt called to do something and so one of the things I did was write him a note on the bill about how I noticed these things and tell him it was such a gift.
I was the last person there. My sushi was less than $7. I signed and handed the bill to him inside. As I walked away I could see him reading the receipt and he ran out into the parking lot behind me. He thanked me. I told him that each time I’ve been here he takes such exquisite care of people and I’ve noticed every time. He said that people sometimes think he’s weird for doing that. I told him it’s amazing. We hugged.
As I walked away I felt like I was floating on a cloud. Joy surged through my veins. I was supposed to follow this urge to write him, to tell him. I think he needed it that night. And maybe I too needed to feel special and taken care of by a stranger whose only motivation was to be of service and do what he loves.
That night I thought about kindness and I realized that I’ve experienced the kindness of strangers a plethora of times. How we as humans do beautiful things for each other, go out of our way to help each other. How people show up when you need them or how you often show up when they need you. Sometimes it’s an interaction. We may never see each other again. But people are wonderful, amazing, beautiful, kind, thoughtful, inspiring.
If we look for the good, we will always find it, because it is everywhere.
In high school, one of my favorite quotes was from Gandhi who said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.”
Kindness is everywhere starting with us.
Be the kindness you wish you to see in the world.