Friday, October 26, 2007

A Little Kindness

In a big city kindness comes in small portions. I suppose that’s different in rural areas—we city folks have the impression that in the country people show kindness in big ways: helping plow the farm, raising barns and the like. Those are huge, but in the city life is completely different. Holding a door open…picking up a dropped glove or scarf or a child’s toy…taking your time getting on the bus so that someone else can make it in time. That’s the sort of thing that happens in a city.

The other day I saw a young woman get on my bus and drop into a seat. She looked exhausted, like a lot of people do here in London. She didn’t look English—my guess that she was one of the thousands of immigrant workers here from Poland or China or Africa, the sort who clean and fix and build most of the city around me. She was dozing in her seat when an elderly woman boarded the bus and labored her way down the aisle. Without a thought—without any consideration of her own tiredness—she got up and offered her seat to the woman. The lady sat down and thanked the young person with a smile that would melt the hardest heart. It was one of those truly beautiful moments that happen in a big, impersonal city. Nobody got a barn built on the bus that day, but someone gave something of themselves to make another person’s day a little better.

What a humbling thing that was to see.

I get frustrated here—with the level of service, with the general melancholy and materialism of the culture, with the overt rudeness of people who seem to have little time or care for others. It’s such an easy place to be cynical—easier by far than any American city I’ve ever been in. I can have days here when I wonder if there is any hope for the gospel—any point of contact that might let me say: ‘you know, that’s sort of like what happens in the Jesus story.’

And then I see a tired young woman give up her seat to a pensioner.

I was reminded today that God made everyone in his image. What that means is not that all people are basically good deep down. I’m certainly cynical enough to reject that idea. But what it does mean is that occasionally, in small ways, we can see something that reminds us of what God wants us to see—how he wants us to behave—and we can share it with someone else. People might not all be good, but there is in every person the potential to be good, to be decent, to be generous to a stranger. I know that may seem small, but that’s the point. With so many people crowded together in this ancient/modern city, it’s the small things that matter. It’s the small kindnesses that stand against the torrent of contrary evidence and remind us that there is a God, that he loves us, and wants us to love each other.

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