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“I wish all people were as wonderful, patient, and kind as you were to me this afternoon.”
The older woman who was my next-seat neighbor on my flight placed both her hands on my head as if to bless me. Then, with a shy smile, she waved goodbye as she went home with her son who’d come to pick her up from the airport.
Over the years, I’ve been called many things. Some good. Some not-so-good. Some really ugly. I’ve been called smart, driven, committed, passionate, loyal, an asshole, a b*tch, a witch, wise, an idiot, and so much more.
What I haven’t been called is: kind.
The above incident occurred just three days back as I returned home after spending eight days in the southern part of my country visiting family and friends. It was an overwhelming trip for me. As someone who had averaged at least one international travel (for work and leisure) every three months for a period of over seven years prior to 2020, to say I’ve had cabin fever for the past two years is the understatement of the century. But as travel has slowly started to open, I took advantage and visited my family.
After the sucky year that was 2021, meeting extended family and friends was amazing. What was even more amazing was the actual traveling itself. I’d missed it oh-so-much.
Waking up early and making my way to the airport when the roads are completely free—of noise, pollution, and other human beings. Standing in long lines to check-in, grimacing while going through security checks, sighing really loudly when the scanner shows you have a nail file in your carry-on but you just cannot find it when you open it, quietly but triumphantly fist pumping yourself when you sneak your carry-on inside the overhead bin just before the man behind you tries to slip his in—all the minutiae of traveling I had taken for granted before. But now, I experienced every trite and commonplace detail with enthusiasm and a stupid smile on my face.
To say it was one of the best trips of my life is truly underselling it.
Continuing with the theme of experiencing my first travel in two years with gusto, when I saw the elderly lady seated next to me, I actually smiled. She looked nervous. I asked her if it was her first time traveling. She nodded. She also said that she’d been stuck at her brother’s house for two years because of the pandemic and was now returning home to her son, feeling homesick and nervous.
I reassured her that I would stay with her until she was reunited with her son. And the relief I saw on her face, it was like a child who’s told they can try every flavor of ice cream at the same time.
Her name was Nirmala Devi, and over the course of the two-hour plane ride, we really connected. She told me about her life at her brother’s during the pandemic and how much she missed her grandkids. I told her about my tragedy in December 2020 (she shed tears) and how that affected me during 2021.
Since we were traveling on a budget airline, we had to buy food on the plane. We both giggled like little kids as we pored through the single-page menu as if we were in a five-star restaurant and gave our order to the flight attendant. She then shared her oats with me while I shared my salted cashews with her. I blew on her hot coffee before I would let her drink it and then watched her grimace as she made signs that it was absolutely horrible. And we burst out laughing again.
When we finally landed, I went with her to baggage retrieval and took out her black suitcase with multi-colored tassels tied to the handle (she told me proudly that her brother’s grandson made it so she could recognize her suitcase from afar) and wheeled it to the arrival gate where her son waited for her eagerly. After the rapturous reunion between son and mother, the former turned to me and thanked me for taking care of his mom while a blissful Nirmala Devi blessed me and said, “I wish all people were as wonderful, patient, and kind as you were to me.”
I waved goodbye to my new friend and made my way to my Uber, mulling over Nirmala Devi’s words as the taxi inveigled its way past the insane traffic of the city toward my home.
The word kind really struck me. Like I said at the beginning, pre-pandemic I was not known for being kind or wonderful or patient. I wasn’t a cruel or heinous human being by any means, but I was also always on the go, especially when traveling. As an inveterate traveler who enjoys every aspect of traveling, I’m also very schedule-driven, and that meant I never ever spoke to the person next to me. I either worked on my flights or rested and tried to sleep. I hated making small talk and immediately shoved headphones in my ears, even if I didn’t listen to anything. And while I never refused help if someone asked me for it, I never offered it on my own, either.
So, for someone to bless me for being kind was new to me.
We’re often taught to be driven, ambitious, committed—but kindness, to be kind, is not something we are often taught. We hear about acts of kindness and read about generous people all around us, but we are rarely taught the value of everyday kindness.
My reassuring Nirmala Devi that I’d stay with her until her son came and picked her up at the airport brought her so much peace of mind and happiness. She told me she’d been so nervous but after meeting me, she thoroughly enjoyed her plane ride. And guess what? It cost me absolutely nothing. That was a huge lesson I learned that day.
And when Nirmala Devi called me kind, it felt like magic. Something fundamentally shifted inside of me. Maybe it was the tragedy of last year. Maybe it was the depression of the pandemic years. Maybe it was the loneliness and aloneness of the past two years. Maybe, maybe, maybe…I don’t know. But being called kind humbled me. My heart felt full and ready to burst.
I knew right then that I needed to do this more often. I needed to be gentler, calmer, nicer, and kinder from here on out. The world, especially post-pandemic, is a hard one. And if these random acts of kindness can help alleviate someone’s pain, I’m committed to doing it a lot more moving forward.
So, I went down the kindness rabbit hole and collected these quotes on kindness that are now proudly on display on my Quotation Wall.
Look, I’m realistic about who I am. I know I will not suddenly turn into Princess Diana or Mother Teresa. But if I stay still and pay attention to the world around me, and am mindful and kind to those around me, those who I could possibly influence, I know that I can make the world I inhabit a marginally better place to live in.
These 15 quotes inspire me. They inspire me to be better, do better, and be kinder. I hope they inspire you to do the same as well:
1. “Beginning today, treat everyone you meet as if they were going to be dead by midnight. Extend to them all the care, kindness and understanding you can muster, and do it with no thought of any reward. Your life will never be the same again.” ~ Og Mandino
2. “Do things for people not because of who they are or what they do in return, but because of who you are.” ~ Harold S. Kushner
3. “Three things in human life are important: the first is to be kind; the second is to be kind; and the third is to be kind.” ~ Henry James
4. “Carry out a random act of kindness, with no expectation of reward, safe in the knowledge that one day someone might do the same for you.” ~ Princess Diana
5. “We can’t help everyone, but everyone can help someone.” ~ Ronald Reagan
6. “I hope you will have a wonderful year, that you’ll dream dangerously and outrageously, that you’ll make something that didn’t exist before you made it, that you will be loved and that you will be liked, and that you will have people to love and to like in return. And, most importantly (because I think there should be more kindness and more wisdom in the world right now), that you will, when you need to be, be wise, and that you will always be kind.” ~ Neil Gaiman
7. “Unexpected kindness is the most powerful, least costly, and most underrated agent of human change.” ~ Bob Kerrey
8. “Constant kindness can accomplish much. As the sun makes ice melt, kindness causes misunderstanding, mistrust, and hostility to evaporate.” ~ Albert Schweitzer
9. “Kindness and politeness are not overrated at all. They’re underused.” ~ Tommy Lee Jones
10. “But remember, boy, that a kind act can sometimes be as powerful as a sword.” ~ Rick Riordan, The Battle of the Labyrinth
11. “I’ve been searching for ways to heal myself, and I’ve found that kindness is the best way.” ~ Lady Gaga
12. “I would rather make mistakes in kindness and compassion than work miracles in unkindness and hardness.” ~ Mother Teresa, A Gift for God: Prayers and Meditations
13. “You cannot do kindness too soon, for you never know how soon it will be too late.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
14. “A part of kindness consists in loving people more than they deserve.” ~ Joseph Joubert
15. “I think probably kindness is my number one attribute in a human being. I’ll put it before any of the things like courage or bravery or generosity or anything else.” ~ Roald Dahl