I often cry when I write.
I write a lot in public.
Therefore, I cry a lot in public.
Amongst friends and family, I'm not actually much of a crier. Sure I'll cry in solidarity with almost anyone who cries in my presence, or when I'm steam-out-of-my-ears angry, but otherwise, I'm fairly reserved with my tears.
At least I thought I was. I never put two and two together, but considering I write everyday, I guess I cry a lot more than I realized. At least a couple times a week.
Writing is when I confront all the noise in my head, and sometimes there's emotional overflow.
When I write in public, usually at one of the local coffee shops that don't mind me sitting in the corner for a few hours, I've gotten pretty good at hiding my tears. I hunch over my computer, I hide behind my (usually) overgrown bangs, or I just do a lot of casual eye-wiping with the back of my hand.
But once in a while, especially when someone is sitting nearby, a stray sniffle captures the attention of my fellow humans. Mostly they uncomfortably ignore me, often they flat-out don't care. I'm quite okay with both reactions. I really hate interrupting other peoples' days, and I really don't want to be a nightmare of a person when I'm sharing space.
Recently, however, I was not ignored. I was embraced.
Sitting at a long communal table in a coffee shop the other day (I always prefer communal tables, I feel like I'm not hogging a table from more "short term" customers), the waterworks started as I worked on a post about cat litter.
Yes, that's correct, cat litter. Because I am ridiculous.
Long story short, I started writing about cat litter, MY experience with cat litter, which cat litters my cat preferred... then I missed my cat. And then I thought about my mom, who just lost HER cat.
And then I felt very sad, and far away from my family.
I employed all of my tactics: I slumped down, pulled my bangs over my eyes, and did a few slimy wipes with the back of my hand.
It didn't work. There was just too much going on with my face. Reaching for my bag, I fished out an old, gnarly napkin and tried to covertly blow my nose. When I did, a few women sitting further down the table from me, turned and looked my way.
Crap. ATTENTION. My inner vampire hissed and recoiled.
I hunched lower and pretended to struggle with a sentence, when really I was just typing and deleting the word "the" over and over again.
"Are you okay?"
Is she talking to me? I toyed with slithering under the table and crawling away.
Timidly flicking my eyes toward the woman across the table who had spoken to me, I attempted to laugh casually and say, "Oh I'm fine! Work is just hard today! HAHAHAHAHA!"
I sort of got the words out. But such is the case when someone is surprisingly kind, instead of laughing, the tears rolled out harder and I emitted a frowny-faced howl that might have been a laugh if I were a grizzly bear.
But I am a human, and the sound was startlingly loud and sounded less like "ha ha ha" and more like "UHHH UHHH UH-HUH-HUH-HUHHHHHHH".
I expected the group of stylish and coiffed young women to turn back to their frothy coffee drinks, but instead they leaned in a little.
"We've all had those days," one woman said with what I think was an Australian accent. "Would you like another tissue? That one's a bit soggy."
She smiled and handed me a tissue.
"Thank you. I feel like such a dummy." Sniffle, sniffle, snort, UH-HUH-HUH-HUH.
"Don't!" the three women all said.
They asked me what I was working on, and I explained that I was a writer and that my work gets to me sometimes. They didn't press me for details, and I appreciated that.
What I did appreciate was that for a moment these three friends made me feel a little less alone. They offered temporary, but what felt like all-encompassing friendship while I needed it.
"Can you take a break? No sense in working when you feel like crap," one of the women with shoulder-length black hair and a green, floral shirt said. I liked the way she said, "crap." It sounded slightly British and cool.
I almost said no, but then decided to half-close my laptop. "You're right. I'll just drink my coffee for a moment."
"Alright," she said. I thought they might turn back to their private conversation. "So you're American? Canadian?" They did not. They engaged me further.
I told them yes, and we talked for a few minutes about why I was in Hong Kong, what they did for work (recruiting and something having to do with banking?), and other innocuous randomness.
The next time I attempted a laugh, it sounded human.
The conversation wasn't important, it was what it did. Those women lifted my spirits and dried my tears, for no other reason than they saw that I needed it.
They were simply kind to me. How often have I seen someone who needed a bit of kindness and turned away because, "not my problem"? Too often.
After what was probably no more than 10 minutes, a genuine smile cracked my face and I thanked them. "Thanks for being so nice to me. I feel so much better."
They politely said numerous versions of "It's no big deal!" and wished me a good rest-of-my-work-day.
"Take care of yourself," said the woman sitting furthest from me. She spoke the kind of English that sounds almost American, but with a little bit of Hong Kong around the edges.
I went back to work, they continued their conversation. Eventually they left, waiving goodbye to me and wishing me good luck with my work. And that was that.
No drawn out declarations of friendship or exchange of information. Our "friendship" existed for a finite amount of time.
But it felt perfect.
In a time when I'm feeling especially cynical about the world, those three women were the antidote to my cynicism, my skepticism that rogue kindness might be an endangered species.
Maybe it is, but I've had an encounter.
And that's the thing about such encounters, maybe that's how such kindness reproduces? At least that's my hope. It may seem like such a small thing, but in that moment, those women's choice to NOT turn a blind eye to another person's sadness, inspires me to do the same for another.
Perhaps I'm being a little naive, but maybe if I help someone else, they will feel empowered to help another person, and that person will help another, and that person will help another, and so on and so on. Maybe I'm too hopeful, but perhaps we could use a little bit of that right now?
My husband says I'm a magnet for such admittedly unusual encounters, that they don't happen to other people. I'm not sure that's true, but yeah, weird shit happens to me a lot. It could be that I look approachable, "safe," familiar. But I do think I'm always sort of on the lookout for unusual experiences or individuals, maybe I'm drawing things to me?
No matter, that was my moment of hope recently. A tiny, little moment of awe at the kindness of people.
I hope a "random act of kindness" finds its way into your life too, in some form. And if not, I hope my little story serves to lifts you up a bit today.
Has anything like this ever happened to you? Has a stranger ever reached out to you when you needed it? Have you ever reached out to a stranger? Tell us about your "random acts of kindness"!