Today I found myself in the basement of City Hall, standing in line for – I don’t know. Like an hour and a half. I was in the Criminal and Driving Records unit, which, for those of you who’ve never had the privilege, sits at the end of a poorly lit, ramen-noodle-smelling hallway. You’re not allowed to use cellphones, wi-fi is blocked and the only magazines have most of their pages ripped out.
I needed to get a criminal background check for work – a task I’ve put off until now. Why, did I put this job off, you ask? Well, that’s because it’s a sucky, thankless job, needlessly complicated and inconvenient. (Why, one may ask, can we not do this online? Is this not the Age of Information? Should I not be able to accomplish this with the click of my mouse?)
But, I digress.
After standing in line, being sent to another line, standing there, being sent to the ATM, and standing in line once again, I finally made it to the front. It didn’t take long. The lady took my drivers license, walked to her desk, came back with an official-looking piece of paper, embossed with the city’s stamp.
“That’s it?” I asked, replacing my license in my wallet.
“That’s all there is,” she said.
I smiled at her. “Thanks,” I said. “Have an absolutely marvelous day!”
Her mouth fell open. Then she closed it, her lips quivering slightly as she brought them back together.
“That was so nice,” she whispered. “That’s the nicest thing anyone’s ever said after getting a criminal background check.” She swallowed. “No one is ever nice to us down here.”
And I’m sure that’s true. Now, I could have given her all kinds of advice on how to create a space that invites kindness. Get rid of the ramen-noodles smell, for starters. Maybe some cut flowers. Or at least some plants. But that isn’t the point. There’s all kinds of places on earth that are utterly devoid of kindness – they don’t expect it; they don’t give it; they don’t get it. Which is why my – I can’t even call it kindness; more a like social nicety – caught her so off-guard and touched her so deeply.
“I’m a mom,” I said. “Making people feel good about themselves is part of the job description.” She laughed as I walked out the door.
Buoyed by this I told three cops that I appreciated their good work as I headed out to the snowy street. I’m pretty sure they thought I was nuts.
But the point is this: I’ve decided to go out of my way to appreciate the people who don’t get appreciated nearly enough. Garbage haulers; tow truck drivers; tax auditors; telemarketers. I am a woman of few marketable skills. I’m neither rich nor powerful nor influential. Kindness is one of my few assets, and I’ve decided to dish it out widely, heavily, and with abandon.
Because that person working in the basement of a building, that person with the thankless job. That used to be me. A long time ago. Maybe its you. I would have appreciated a little bit of kindness back then. So a little kindness now isn’t just a gift to some random person, and it’s not a gift to the world either. It’s a gift to me. It’s a gift to you. And I can’t recommend it highly enough.