September 28, 2016 § Leave a comment
This is the story of a compliment.
About a month ago I had a rare Tuesday night off from work at the Cafe, and I had gone over to my boyfriend’s house for the evening. We decided to go for ice cream after dinner, which is a really easy decision to make when you live in NEPA, since there is an ice cream place within 5 minutes of everyone’s house. As a matter of fact, there are at least four ice cream places within a 5 minute drive of Matt’s house. But that’s not really the point.
We were sitting in his Volkswagen bus, licking our cones and trying to invent ways you could get more sprinkles onto soft ice cream. Matt made some offhand comparison and I said, “That’s a good metaphor.” I paused and then (because I’m the kind of person who also thinks it’s fun to diagram sentences in my head), I said in a goofy, fake-smart voice: “Do you know the difference between a metaphor and a simile? A metaphor is a direct statement of comparison and a simile uses the words ‘like’ or ‘as’.”
Predictably, Matt snorted at me and asked, “Am I in English class right now?”
(Like you, dear reader, I assumed his question was rhetorical.)
But then he continued in a more serious tone. “Why aren’t you an English teacher, actually? You’re so smart. You could probably get ridiculous scholarships and get through college so easily. Why didn’t you ever do that?”
I thought about it for a few seconds and shrugged. “I never wanted to be a teacher. And I never had the money to go to college.” But that seemed like an excuse once I said it so I kept going. “Honestly, when I was 18, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. So I figured I’d work for a little while, save up some money, and then go to school.”
I paused to lick my cone, because chocolate ice cream was about to cascade off, slither down my hand, and drip onto my light-blue summer shorts, presumably leaving a trail of rainbow sprinkle destruction behind. I caught the drip in time, though.
“I never had a burning ambition, or a career I dreamed about doing, except maybe writing. I never cared if people thought how smart I was. I never wanted people to think of me and say ‘Rose is so smart!’. I guess if I have an ambition for my life, it’s that I want to be a genuinely good person. I want people to think of me and say, ‘Rose is a kind person.’ That sounds cheesy but it’s true.”
I gave Matt a self-conscious smile, because it did sound cheesy to say it out loud, but he didn’t tease me or make fun of me.
He just looked silently at me for a few seconds, and then said, “Well, you’re doing a really good job at it so far.”
I said thank you, very quietly, but my eyes were shining.
It does sound cheesy though, doesn’t it? But why? Does it have too much of a do-gooder sound to it? Or Barney the Big Purple Dinosaur, with his “sharing is caring!” goop? So I’ve been trying to think of examples, to make my ambition into something I can take seriously. What is kindness?
Kindness is my mother washing at least 10 dirty dishes of cat food every day because she’s too kind not to feed the strays on our back porch. It’s Sam playing soccer with Reagan in the restaurant parking lot even though she just worked a long shift, because he’s so excited to play with her. Kindness is Matt coming over my family’s house for dinner on a weeknight, even though he’s exhausted from work, because he knows it means a lot to me. It’s Jeff, my boss and owner of the Cafe, giving the dishwasher rides home after work because he doesn’t drive. Being kind is what Angela did when she worked at Salvation Army and spoke Spanish to the customers when they needed it, even if it made her job a little harder. It’s my aunts always being there to help my family out. It’s my brother-in-law helping to pay for Cathy’s car repairs. So many more examples come to my mind as I write. So many people I know, doing great and small acts of kindness.
And then it hits me: all these examples I’ve thought of are really just people being unselfish. It’s all examples of people giving themselves up for others, putting others first. Generous, unselfish love. So maybe I should fix my words. Maybe instead of saying “I want to be kind”, what I’m trying to say is “I want to be unselfish.” And that’s a worthwhile enough ambition for anyone. That’s the work of a lifetime.