Thursday, August 22, 2013

Failure of Kindness

A couple of weeks ago, I commented on the commencement address given by George Saunders.  The title of my post was "Kindness."  It related to the speech in which Mr. Saunders spoke about how success could be measured by the amount of kindness one was able to sow in a lifetime.  Okay, that is a severe over-simplification, but that's my view.

He also mentioned something about a "failure of kindness."  That was a time when he could have spoken up for another human being but didn't.  It wasn't that he had been unkind, he'd just been somewhat apathetic.

It reminded me of one of my own failures of kindness.  A very simple episode that has stuck with me through the years.

It was many, many years ago when I was eighteen years old and living with my new husband in a very large city in a northern state.  It was the first time I'd ever been away from my Texas home, and it was the first day that I was on my own after dropping new hubby at his new job.

On the way home, at six o'clock in the morning, I stopped at a convenience store for a money order and had just climbed back into the car after completing my purchase.  Putting the car into reverse, I backed carefully out of the space and headed to the exit to get on the super-busy highway.

From the corner of my eye, I spied a tall, dark-haired man running toward me, waving his arms and yelling.

Alarmed, I wanted to dart out onto the highway, but there was too much traffic.  I was trapped.

And then he was there, right beside my car, grinning from ear to ear.  He was wearing what appeared to be a mechanic's overall, so in the back of my mind, I wondered if he'd seen something wrong with my car.

I rolled my window down about an inch.  I knew better than to roll it down all the way.

"Yes?" My voice trembled.  I must have looked at him the way a deer in the middle of the road looks at an approaching 18-wheeler.

He was still grinning.  And he was obviously waiting for me to roll the window down a little further. "I saw your Texas plates," he said cheerfully. He bobbed forward in sort of a half-bow.  I think he was trying to put me at ease, but I was too young and too stunned to reciprocate.  I just sat there.

He began to back away.  Up close, he could probably see that I was terrified.

Nevertheless, even as it was happening, I was already feeling a measure of regret at not being able to roll that window down and shake his hand.

As he continued to back away, he called out, "I just wanted to say howdy . . . I was tickled to see someone from home, that's all."

There was no way he could've known that I'd been physically robbed at my place of employment only a few months earlier.  And I'm not even sure if that's what made me so cautious; all I know is that by the time I got up my nerve to believe what he was saying, he was already back inside his work truck, driving away.

I've never forgotten that thirty-second encounter.  I felt like I let him down -- as a fellow Texan -- by my inability to recognize simple human kindness.

Perhaps he, or someone he knows, will read this and recognize himself.  Then he would know "the rest of the story."  Wouldn't that be something?

Afterthought:  Remember, life is fragile, treat it with care (All For Love, 5 Prince Publishing).


  1. A terrific reminder, Ann, that it's okay to be cautious but that sometimes kindness is right there in front of us. :)

    1. Thanks, Vickie. In today's world, kindness sometimes gets shoved aside, doesn't it?

  2. I'm not sure "let down" is the proper phrasing honestly. Being a fellow Texan, I'm able to say "He'd understand." given the circumstances and we all make mistakes.

    1. I'm glad you think so, Sascha. Nice to hear from a fellow Texan. =)

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