Muni has a policy that women can ask a driver to let them off of a bus closer to their destination when it's late. They won't go off their route but if letting you off a block away from a stop gets you closer they will, or they should. I learned about it one night when a woman asked to be let off on my corner. I got off behind her and we struck up a conversation. We've been neighborhood friends ever since. We see each other from time to time and chat. We have never exchanged information but I'm always glad to see her.
I was always reticent to ask. The policy is not well articulated and some drivers think it's after dark and others think it's after 10:00 PM. Some stop and others argue about the policy. I hate asking for special treatment so if they argue it makes me miserable. It's not really special treatment if it's a policy and if they say something like they don't have time I'm OK. It's ridiculous because they have to stop on my corner anyway. We're talking about maybe two minutes to let me off.
One night it was dark and raining and I asked and the guy said it was too early. My knees weren't as bad as they are now but I did limp. I got off and walked home in the cold, dark night feeling angry and sorry for myself. It was pouring. I got soaked. The guy was so unkind. For no obvious reason I remembered all this recently and was going to write a post about it and then forgot.
I am increasingly dependent on kindness. I am becoming Blanche Dubois. But I am never comfortable asking for help.
I am lucky. I have great neighbors who get my mail and take my trash down and carry groceries up. I'd be in so much more pain if they didn't do these things. But there are times when I need to ask. It's just so hard.
After I read the book review for the Philips book I realized that I had a book he'd coauthored. I don't remember if I read something or heard him on the radio but I remember buying the book during one of Kristina's visits. Kristina's kindness is legend in my life. Specifically her contributions to my reading addiction. I think there was a scenario in which we found one copy of the book in one book store, which she bought for me and another in a different book store, which I bought for her. And then we made jokes about our kindness.
I decided I need to read the book I already have before I buy a new one. I don't know why. It's some weird notion of discipline I made up. Anyway. I think I'm getting a feel for his thinking.
I grew up with my grandparents and knew I had to help. I never resented helping. I took pride in it. Philips makes this very point about the naturalness of kindness. He writes about the pleasure of kindness being in the way it connects us with other people. But it also makes us vulnerable. I think I learned that my help toward my grandparents was a sort of rent. A need/obligation. And that shadowed my pleasure and sense of connection. I've been trying to untangle those wires for years.
When I was in North Carolina people seemed so kind. Mom and rarely approached a door without someone opening it for us. One host in a restaurant stretched herself like a ballet dancer to hold two different doors. Sales clerks and grocery checkers seemed less disgruntled than they do here.
One morning I walked out the door and saw the bus a block away at the stop. I figured I'd missed it. I started down my hill and when I looked up the bus was stopped at my corner. The driver was one I saw many mornings and she must have seen me and was waiting. I heard the sound of the door opening and ran for it so grateful and surprised.
Kindness is surprising. It's another thing Philips mentions. It shouldn't be. But it is.