Happy New Year…a couple of weeks late.
I’ve been vegging on what blog post to write first this year. I have a plenty of ideas brewing, thoughts around life events and experiences, both humorous and heavy, and many more from our autism journey to share.
But the new year has also been significant enough already that I’ve had to brake to get my bearings. Sometimes that’s what life requires from you. To respond first. Then, to stop and listen to what you need. And only later — sometimes days, weeks, or even months later — to reflect. That’s what the start of this year has been for me.
I decided last week, when my days felt incredibly full and somewhat exhausting, that I wanted to feel content and see signs of compassion. That’s what my inner self was telling me I needed. I wasn’t looking for heart-pounding bliss, and I wasn’t looking for magnanimous gestures. I just wanted to feel at peace and notice the best in others.
From stage right, enter my last Wednesday.
We started taking Kane to a weekly social skills class right before the holidays, and he loves it. It’s an hour and a half long, so it’s also given us a few spare moments to run errands.
We were at Target during this time, and we arrived at the checkout after having an unusually leisurely time shopping. I have no idea what Jeff and I were doing differently than others around us, but the cashier looked up, saw us, and said, “You two are very smiley.” His comment prompted a short conversation about his grumpier customers that evening, and morphed into him talking about his two young children. I guess we gave him the boost he needed because he was smiling when we left, and that also made my heart happy.
After the class was over, we went to Chipotle, where we ordered the usual for Kane: a hefty portion of black beans on one side of a bowl, an equally hefty amount of rice on the other side, and steak in a separate bowl. They must get plenty of special orders, because they never look at us like we’re crazy. As the cashier was swiping my card, I asked if he’d charged us for all of our extras because it seemed like something had been left off, and he smiled and said “you’re good.” I thanked him.
As we sat down, I saw another man who was standing in front of the cashier look out the door and then walk outside with a bottled drink in his hand. He delivered it to the person who had left it on the counter and walked back inside empty-handed. I saw this and smiled to myself.
As we were finishing our meal, another man with a backpack walked inside the restaurant. He placed keychains on each table with a card that on one side explained that he was deaf and any contribution to purchase his keychain was appreciated. On the other side, the card provided a visual depiction of the American Sign Language alphabet. I looked up at the staff in Chipotle, wondering for only a brief moment if they were going to approach him about soliciting, but they seemed to not notice or care. We made a contribution along with a couple of other tables, the man signed “Thank you,” and I spent the next few minutes teaching Kane the alphabet in sign language with the aid of the card.
It took me until then to notice the string of events and the common thread of compassion that held them all together. The first incident was a pleasant conversation, the second was a kind exchange, the third was a noticed act, and the fourth was an interaction that almost brought me to tears. Who knows where and how each gesture propagated, but it reminded me that life is full of kind moments that ripple out in waves to others and then still others, and that the effects of them are long and wide and deep.
There’s a scene in Mockingjay, where Katniss Everdeen is recorded after a bomb raid in District Eight. At the end of it, she says, “You can torture us and bomb us and burn our districts to the ground, but do you see that? Fire is catching! And if we burn, you burn with us!” It’s a powerful monologue, because Katniss is rising to her role to lead the rebels against the Capital. But the phrase “Fire is catching!” is what gets me every time.
We are all affected by each other. And what you do AND what you witness has a profound effect on both others and yourself. When you help others, you also help yourself. When you are a witness to the kindness of others, kindness also grows within you.
There’s a lot of excitement in the U.S. these days, which really means there’s a lot of conflict right now in how we deal with our issues as a nation. It can sometimes be challenging to notice the beautiful moments around us instead of the tumultuous ones. But I’m going to continue to look for those moments. I’m going to continue to ask to be reminded of our connection with each other instead of our discord, of our commonalities instead of our differences, and of the compassionate moments that surround us constantly.
Compassion, just like fire, is catching too.