So many of us feel lost and alone, even though we may be surrounded by others. We drag ourselves out of bed in the morning and drive the long road to work where we sit at our desk and stare into a computer screen for eight hours. Then, we drive the same busy, lonely road back. Maybe we pull our car into a drive through along the way. When we hand our money to the freckled boy behind the window, we hardly glance at him. We come home to our televisions. We pay our bills. We spend our weekends anonymously shopping for toilet paper and curtains. We don’t talk to our neighbors. We forget to call the people we love most. And we wake up on Monday to do it all again.
It doesn’t have to be this way. We can create the world we want simply by choosing to. We can look around us and notice the people who are there, the people who have always been there. We can catch strangers’ glances and offer a friendly smile. We can ask if the sad, young girl standing next to us on the subway would like our seat; maybe she’s had a tough day and needs to sit for just a few moments. We can be there for those we love, ready to talk or touch or simply listen. We can also open ourselves to people we don’t know, and even to people we’re fairly certain we don’t like all that much (or who, for whatever reason, don’t seem to like us). Why not? What is there to lose compared with all the good that can be gained?
Offering ourselves like this can cause us to feel just a bit vulnerable. It’s not the way we’re used to interacting with the world, and it’s not how we often see others interact. In fact, it’s not how others relate with us. Of course they don’t. It’s simply not the way things are done. (Avert your eyes. Don’t acknowledge the person in front of you.) But, allowing yourself the vulnerability of being open and compassionate can be life-changing – for you and for everyone you meet.
A simple smile or a kind word can make all the difference to someone. Remember, everyone has her or his own suffering. On the surface, it may look nothing like yours –it may even be difficult for you to understand it as suffering – but everyone suffers, and kindness softens that suffering. In this world, kindness affects more change than anything else.
I wrote this article on a plane. I don’t fly often, and I have a little anxiety about it. This trip was particularly difficult, because I’d just left behind someone whom I love very much, and I knew I wouldn’t see this person again for several months. I was late to board and found myself bumping down the aisle with too many bags, exhausted from almost no sleep, feeling the annoyed, or else, indifferent, eyes of passengers on me as I muttered, “Sorry,” again and again. There were tears gathering in my eyes. I couldn’t help it. But, one flight attendant smiled at me sweetly each time she passed. She spread kindness when I needed it most.
Each time, I smiled back, so grateful for her.
Some days are like this. Some days even more than others, we need to be touched by openness and compassion. Each of us.
Creating community is, at its heart, allowing ourselves to connect with those around us. Everything begins with this.