Recently, I’ve gotten into a podcast called Invest Like The Best. The host ends every episode by asking his guest “what’s the kindest thing anyone’s ever done for you?” To be honest, this didn’t stick out to me until I heard a couple guests answer with some pretty trivial shit. I won’t say which guests, but imagine it’s something like “someone lent me $100 the other day”. And, I must admit, I felt pretty judgy. Like, how privileged must your life be to have something so trivial be the kindest thing anyone’s ever done for you?
To be fair, maybe they were just put on the spot and didn’t have time to think deeply about it. And really, I don’t really know their life, so whatever it was they actually said really made a difference.
Anyway, it got me thinking: what would I say? I’ve got two answers.
Trigger warning: severe depression is discussed.
My first answer isn’t a single act, but rather sustained kindness. During two periods in my young adult life, I experienced deep depression. In both cases, I seriously doubted whether I provided any net value to the world. Both periods saw friendships lapse. I can’t imagine I was all that much fun to be around.
Yet…a number of people in my life really dug in and stayed with me in those trenches. They coaxed me out to hang. They never made me feel like a burden. They gave me reasons to look forward to moments of fun in otherwise painful times. They tolerated my occasional meltdowns. One friend even has the distinction of being a lifeline to me through both periods.
I don’t know if these people thought of themselves as being kind at the time or if I was actually was enjoyable to be around, outside of the bleakness in my own head. Does it really matter? They were there, I eventually got better, and I’m forever thankful.
(If I can give any advice to anyone who is deeply depressed: I promise, you are lovable. Letting folks help me carry the burden of what was going on in my head got me through to the point where I was able bear it myself again. Aside from the people you know, I have heard good things about the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and the Crisis Text Line.)
My second answer is more of a single act. I was traveling through the Middle East with a good friend of mine. We were en route from Egypt to Jordan via land and sea to visit a friend who lives in Amman. Our trip got all screwed up by our ferry being delayed several hours, for no apparent reason. This ruined our planned bus ride halfway across the country, and our rendezvous with our host. As this was the time before pervasive global cell phone usage, this threw a major wrench into our plan.
A Palestinian-Jordanian dude we met on the ferry was also going to Amman, and he negotiated a cab ride for all of us and a couple other stranded people to get there. Definitely a gamechanger from having no place to go in a city we knew nothing about. But as we got closer to Amman, we weren’t able to reach my friend via the cell phone this same guy let us borrow. Also very worrisome.
He says to us, “It is no problem. You will stay with me and my family.”
It was not phrased in such a way that we could demur our way out of imposing. And we weren’t in much of position to say we’d figure something out on our own.
He must have texted ahead, because we arrived at his family’s apartment, and there was a literal feast waiting for us. We crashed there, had breakfast in the morning, and then he dropped us off at my friend’s house.
The thing about this is we actually would have been alright if he didn’t hook us up. A lot more stuff would have had to gone awry for us to end up in real trouble. But he chose not to be a bystander and helped us anyway. That’s what still blows my mind.
To this day, I cannot fathom this happening in America. We’re so obsessed with our things, our convenience, and our safety. It seems even less likely in an America that is separating refugee and migrant children from their parents, and housing them in deplorable conditions. But I digress.
The hospitality shown to two random Americans by a complete stranger was a truly humbling lesson in kindness that I’ll never forget.