Real Kindness Only Happens When You Slow Down

Being both a rider and a writer I spend a lot of time in coffee shops and fast food places. Yeah, I’m the guy that’s a little sweaty, wearing bulky, black riding gear who’s hunched over a tall glass of iced tea, or maybe warming his hands by wrapping them around a steaming mug of coffee. I may look a little dazed depending on how far I’ve just ridden, how hot or cold it is outside or whether I’ve just ridden through a feverish downpour. (Feverish downpour? Yeah, I guess that works.) But despite the look of wind-blown wild abandon on my face, regardless of whether I’m riding or writing, let me assure you that I’m listening and watching closely. Part of it is that I seriously buy into all of this Be Here Now and Mindfulness stuff. Another part of it is, as a writer, I’m listening and looking for unusual expressions and conversations. The last part is that I’m just flat out nosy (or nosey for some of you).
In this hectic world that relishes speed and quickness – how fast can you get there? – acts of kindness can just whizz right past us. We don’t see them. Hurrying and being preoccupied with getting somewhere else we devalue or become unaware of where we are now, of what’s happening around us. We don’t notice others’ acts of kindness, don’t feel them when they’re done to us and we miss grabbing chances to perform acts of them. We’re too busy trying to eat as quickly as possible, read and send text messages and check our Facebook page. Now I’ll hold my hand up right this minute cause I’m guilty of this too at times. I have to keep reminding myself that kindness comes only at one speed: slow. If you’re moving too fast you’ll miss it.
Let me give you a couple of examples. On my ride back from Myrtle Beach I stopped at a Hardees (if you’ve read my blog you’ll know this is my favorite breakfast place!) in South Carolina. There was a line at the counter and the woman at the register was slightly flustered trying to hurry the orders out to the customers. She didn’t say much to me. But when the line cleared I watched as she greeted a stooped grey haired woman who must have been one of her regulars. She welcomed her warmly and carried her tray to her table. But then she also inquired about her health (which I can assure you from what I saw and overheard wasn’t all that great.) A few minutes later she came back to ask the woman if she had been taking her medicine. The woman nodded but added that her brother was in the hospital. The worker said she was surprised because she had just seen him last week and that he looked all right. Later the same worker is talking to a guy with his trousers pulled half down. They have a playful banter going so I’m sure she knows him. She says to him that he needs to dress better. He replies that he just got up and that he ain’t trying to impress anyone. She says: You might be meeting your future wife in here. He says he don’t care. She replies: You need to work on your attitude if you’re going to make it. Later, back on the bike and down the road I got a hankering for a doughnut and some coffee and I pulled into my second favorite doughnut place and got them. It took the staff quite a while to come to the desk and I was beginning to feel impatient. Then a worker showed up, apologized and told me they had a water leak they were dealing with. I got my order and sat down. Next, an older man whose leg was deformed, came in steadying himself with a cane and dragging his leg behind him as he walked. He was laughing and joking around with people. Again, they brought him his order and took it away for him when he was finished.
I thought about the old man later and how tough his life must be, having to get around like that all the time. I’m not sure I could do it. I remember one time when my riding buddy Jeff and I were having breakfast somewhere in Arkansas and I spotted a man moving snail-like with his walker. I told Jeff that if I ever got this way I wanted him to just take me out back and shoot me. Jeff, being the great friend that he is replied: “If you get like that I’m going to trip you.”
Great to have good friends you can count on!
But I guess the point is that if you are hurrying too much, you don’t see what’s going on around you. And because you don’t see it you think nothing’s happening, that the place is, in a way, a non-place, with little value. One of the reasons I like Hardees so much, and I’ve written about this, is that for some reason older retirees feel comfortable gathering there, usually at breakfast time. It’s usually a group of people, some married, some divorced or widowed that seem to enjoy the almost daily gathering. It’s a slowed down place where they get to share news, maybe some vegetables they’ve grown, make jokes, tease each other and help sooth a bit of that almost unbearable loneliness that can happen to older people who have no families, or whose children live so far away. In the place I sometimes stop at on the way to work, I sit on the edge of their formally-unreserved/informally-reserved zone and have my breakfast. I smile and nod to anyone’s eyes I can catch. Folks wander over and talk to me about my bike, or share stories about the motorcycles they once owned. Believe me, like the TV maid Hazel used to say: “I’ve heard some real doozies”. I feel enriched by it all, grateful.
But I’ll confess, I don’t always slow down. On this last day of the ride I was tired and ready to be home, plus I knew if I could stick to the interstates I could make it home that evening before dark, possibly even in time for The Briar’s Club meeting, the weekly gathering of pipe smokers that meet at my “local” (as they would say in Ireland).
I rode over 430 miles that day but made it there, just in time to stop, slow down and visit with the friends I’ve so recently been blessed with. The ones that sit in their formally-unreserved/informally-reserved pulled together round tables, where they shake hands or give hugs, share news, make jokes, tease each other, but always, each in their own quirky ways, showing kindness to one another.
It can make the roads we’re all riding on less lonely, more loving. But you’ve got to go slow. If you’re in a hurry you’ll miss it. Real kindness only happens when you slow down.

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