“Hello, Marvin,” I said, as I stepped to the front of the line at the polling place.
“Hello,” he said, looking puzzled. “Let’s see if I can remember your name.” He thought a minute.
“Janet,” I said. No light went on in his eyes. “Coburn,” I added.
“I know I must have seen you around somewhere.”
“Actually, no. I just read your name off your name tag and wanted to be friendly.”
“I forgot I was even wearing it,” he said.
* * *
My husband was working in the electronics department of the store. He saw a customer looking at the merchandise. She was apparently transexual, or in transition, or perhaps a transvestite.
“Hello,” Dan said, with a friendly expression on his face. “Is there something I can help you with?”
The woman seemed taken aback.
* * *
Dan also sees many customers from Arabic-speaking countries. He greets them the same way, then helps them as best he can, holding up items and doing his best at understanding heavily accented English.
Those customers always come back. Sometimes, late at night, they talk to Dan, compliment him on his full, lush beard, and introduce him to their friends.
* * *
I was walking through the university’s Student Union building, leaning on my cane. Tired, I tried to take a seat on a convenient chair, but missed my landing and fell to the floor.
Instantly, a group of young women appeared at my side, expertly hoisted me into the chair, and offered to get me juice or a hot, comforting beverage. (I was a bit shaky after my tumble.)
When I assured them I was fine, they returned to the juice bar or went off to class, with no fuss or fussing. It was a big deal to me, but seemed just another event to them.
* * *
Not so long ago, there was a vogue for “random acts of kindness” – helping unknown recipients by putting a coin in an expiring parking meter or paying for the next person in line at the toll booth. And these were indeed nice things to do. They did add a little kindness to the world. Largely, they were anonymous.
What I would like to see in the world, however, are random acts of respect – using a person’s name, waiting on all customers with an attentive expression and welcoming word, helping a fallen stranger.
In fact, these shouldn’t be random acts of respect. Ideally, they should be everyday occurrences, practiced by everyone. We know that’s not going to happen, or at least not anytime soon.
So for now, let’s concentrate on “random.” Just try it whenever you think about it, or once a day. Use a person’s name – even if it annoys you when a server tells you hers, don’t summon her by saying, “Hey, waitress!” Say “Thank you” to the baggage attendant that just lifted your 50-lb. suitcase, even if you’re furious that you had to pay extra for it. Smile and nod at the worker who cleans your hotel room as you pass her in the hall. Shake hands when you’re introduced to the young person with blue hair and sleeve tats.
Do it because it will surprise someone. Do it because it will make someone feel good. Do it because you’re a good person. Do it because your mother told you to be polite. Do it because it’s the only lift a person may get all day. Do it because the people you meet every day deserve respect and too often don’t get it. Do it because we’re all human beings, sharing the planet.
And say “thanks” or nod and smile when someone shows respect to you. You deserve it too. Then keep the chain going.
Practice won’t make perfect. But it will make better. Help. Greet. Smile. Thank. Look at someone when you talk to him. To quote a different song, “Little things mean a lot.”