“In a gentle way, you can shake the world.”
A funny thing happened to me on the way to the food shelf.
Not the one in my kitchen—I’m talking about the neighborhood food shelf hosted in my hometown in Upstate New York. I was accompanying my mother to her shift at the Town Hall which hosts this volunteer “free supermarket” for those in need. We had just parked and were heading into the building when I heard my ebullient mother utter a joyful noise of greeting to a handful of strangers coming toward us in the parking lot.
The introvert in me recoiled.
Now, I was happy to be escorting my mother to her volunteer work helping our little village. Hell, I’m all about community and love. I make a living promoting that life path. But my initial response to seeing a group of people moving in my direction triggered an unfortunate reflex—Oh, goddess. Here we go. Strangers. I don’t want to make small talk with strangers in the parking lot of the Town Freaking Hall.
I made a perfunctory glance toward them, steeled myself and put on my decades-rehearsed polite-but-not-aloof smile. It was then that I noticed that three of the people in the fast-approaching gang were children. Two of them were holding large bouquets of kale. My son was with us, and I felt him hanging back behind my legs (as I used to do with my own mother).
During the perfunctory introduction of the kids, their folks and me and my son, I learned that these kids had grown the vegetables they were carrying and were now offering them to the food shelf to be given away to the community.
I felt something shift within me. Look closer, my mind told me.
Look at the bounty they brought to help others who need assistance. They made those vegetables and now they’re giving them away.
And when I looked at the kids, I saw that they appeared nervous about having their wares displayed for adults to judge. Where I was miffed at having to break my inner silence they were as mortified as any pre-teen kid would be at being the sudden center of attention.
Suddenly, I was taken out of myself. I was no longer pained by the burden of having to be someone or say something clever.
I stopped the kids and pulled my son closer in to join us.
“That kale is gorgeous,” I told one of the boys. “You grew that?”
He smiled and nodded his head vigorously. “That’s amazing. And now you’re sharing it. Awesome.”
And that was that. They went off to the food shelf and my son ran after them.
In that moment, I realized that while I certainly savor my precious silence and openly admit my aversion to meeting new people, there was something else I needed to be right then—a mentor. Those kids looked more freaked out than I was. It was my duty as an adult and as a lover of mankind to step outside of my comfort zone and put them at ease. More importantly, to let them know that what they were doing for others was a mitzvah.
And surprisingly, I realized this small act wasn’t so far out of my comfort zone after all.
As an introvert, are there any areas in your life where you can help others with the consciousness-raising qualities you so carefully craft in your solitude? Where in your life can you be a mentor?
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Editor: Ashleigh Hitchcock