So I’m on a crowded streetcar, heading downtown during morning rush hour.
I’m sitting near the back, reading. Up close to the front, a baby starts crying – pretty loudly & insistently.
I can see Mom trying to comfort the girl – who stops briefly, then resumes her loud, insistent crying.
I ponder how uncomfortable the situation is … for everyone on the streetcar. The child is miserable, her Mom likely uptight as heck … & the passengers? Also anxious. No one enjoys hearing a baby cry. No one knows what to do. You feel powerless.
Awkward scene, all around.
I think “Okay, Janet – move up there into that empty spot behind them, & play ‘Peek’ with the baby & try to cheer her up.”
& then I think “Shoot! It’s not my job. & hey, I don’t want to make a spectacle of myself.”
I only vacillate briefly, though, ‘cos this mind of mine – when I get an impulse like that, it’s very loud & insistent … just like the baby’s crying.
I move up, I play ‘Peek’ with the toddler. She cheers up some. I say to Mom, “I have grandchildren, & I know how difficult these situations are.”
Not too long later, Mom & toddler get off, Mom thanking me as they depart.
Feels very good to have made myself useful!
The woman beside me says “That was a nice thing you did”
& I reply “Well, you know, these situations are so awkward! The child is miserable, & Mom gets all uptight worrying about offending all the other passengers.”
Then I add “The world is sooo insane these days, I think about all we’re left with is being kind to one another … you know??” And she says “Yeah…”
So glad I listened to that little voice in my head.
A very small gesture – pretty darn easy for me to make, after all! – but with a wonderfully gratifying pay-off.
Kurt Vonnegut, whose book A Man Without a Country I was reading on the streetcar, says in the book to a young man from Philadelphia,
“Welcome to Earth, young man. It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It’s round and wet and crowded. At the outside, Joe, you’ve got about a hundred years here. There’s only one rule that I know of: Goddamn it, Joe, you’ve got to be kind.”
Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant man, that Kurt Vonnegut.
So very very much he got right.
That bit, for sure.
Quotes for Today
“I asked Mark a while back what life was all about since I didn’t have a clue. He said, “Dad, we’re here to help each other get through this thing, whatever it is.” Whatever it is. Whatever it is! Not bad. That one could be a keeper. And how should we behave during this apocalypse? We should be unusually kind to one another certainly, but we should also stop being so serious. Jokes help a lot. And get a dog if you don’t already have one. I myself just got a dog. It’s a new cross-breed. It’s half French poodle and half Chinese shitzu. It’s a “shit poo.” And I thank you for your attention. And I am out of here.” – Kurt Vonnegut during his last speech
“If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is!” – Kurt Vonnegut (Vonnegut was a big proponent of noticing good situations, & observing this as often as possible. He’d learned the habit from his Uncle Alex. Uncle Alex was a pretty smart dude!)
“Welcome to Earth, young man. It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It’s round and wet and crowded. At the outside, Joe, you’ve got about a hundred years here. There’s only one rule that I know of: Goddamn it, Joe, you’ve got to be kind.” – Kurt Vonnegut
“The practice of art isn’t to make a living. It’s to make your soul grow.” – Kurt Vonnegut
“Don’t be yourself. Be someone a little nicer.” – Mignon McLaughlin, journalist and author (1913-1983)
“I know what the greatest cure is: it is to give up, to relinquish, to surrender, so that our little hearts may beat in unison with the great heart of the world.” – Henry Miller
Repeat.” – Rob Brezsny