Cool to be kind, in the right measure: Is this ever the year to do the right thing
We're craving lighter moments that ease the mind and warm the heart
It was like a chill in the air, but it was indoors. A few weeks ago, a colleague told me how he had happened to overhear the word "layoffs" — or equivalent usage — a few times in a few days, just by being out and about shopping, etc., on a routine weekend.
I've picked up on that, too, this fall: a friend in the provincial public service says the potential for layoffs in the next budget is a common denominator for conversation; another in the service economy is thinking of retraining because of how things are going in her field.
The COVID-19 pandemic has made 2020 a year of anxiety. Newfoundland and Labrador has escaped much of the trauma that the virus has been causing elsewhere — it took Alberta about four hours on Thursday to surpass the number of all N.L. cases since March — in good part because precautions are in place and people have been, well, doing the right thing by looking out for themselves and their families.
The other costs are formidable: loneliness, isolation, economic hardship, anxiety about what's ahead.
No wonder people are looking for light, and for lightness: things that ease the mind and warm the heart.
Small wonder, then, that we started seeing Christmas lights go up early this year. Who can blame anyone for trying to drive away the darkness, literally or figuratively?
One of our stories earlier this week took off like a rocket. Zach Goudie got in touch with Mithun Mathew, who runs the SpiceX restaurant on Empire Avenue, and who recently branched out with a food truck working the Paradise area.
Mathew had one of those experiences that makes you wonder about humanity. Someone broke into his food truck while he was setting it up, and stole things that ranged from propane tanks and other gear he was installing right down to the licence plate.
How Mathew responded is what made Zach's story leap: he decided not to get angry, but to deepen his community ties. Already known for giving food to those who need it, Mathew — who is in a business that has been hammered by the pandemic — is more committed than ever to using his resources to feed others.
WATCH | Mithun Mathew tells Zach Goudie why he's motivated to help others in his community:
"They might be hungry. That may be the reason they have done that," Mathew said.
"A lot of people do this because they are hungry. They are afraid to ask you for food. So when you are giving food for hungry people, they will come and get it instead of doing this."
Many of the best gestures are done quietly
A generous heart is always appreciated. But why this particular story resonated (it appeared on the main CBC News page) speaks to something we've seen many times over the years. Food security, poverty, community action — they are all pressing topics, but when a particular face and a specific case can be brought to a story, people respond more deeply. The specific is always somehow more moving than the general.
This is the time of year when kindness seems to matter most. Sometimes we make public gestures; often we don't.
I love hearing about people doing the right thing, in their own quiet way. For instance, I know some people who for years have been collecting hygiene products when they travel, for a local women's shelter. A colleague told me recently that she and her husband put aside an evening a week to cook for the clients of a local non-profit. While I was working on this column, a friend mentioned a neighbour who spends hours after every snowfall taking care of his neighbourhood.
The anecdotes add up, and I find them all inspiring, a reminder to do the right thing.
It's too easy to become disconnected, even embittered about things. (If you need more bitterness in your life, try Twitter! It's a great reminder of how fleeting kindness can be.)
But it's not that hard to find moments that bring out the best around us. I think back to some stories we've brought you in the past. There's Nevaeh Denine, the pediatric cancer patient whose relentless optimism during her all-too-short life continues to inspire. I remember another child — Casey Boyd of Main Brook — who last year saved up to buy a rose for every woman in his small community for Valentine's Day. Then there was Alma Lake, a local resident who astonished a family visiting from Ottawa last year (remember tourists? sigh…) by, after learning they could not find a rental car, offered them her own, on the spot.
Stories like this remind me to do better, all the time.
A while ago, I was in the line to board my bus when a woman paid the fares for those waiting with her. It was an unexpected and kind gesture, and I've been inspired to do the same thing myself. It doesn't cost that much, and it might lift a stranger's spirits.
In A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens opens his tale of Ebeneezer Scrooge's redemption by depicting his fatigue of being hit upon to donate for charity. In the rest of what is basically a ghost story, Scrooge comes to realize that his own life is improved by working on the welfare of others, and to live better by living with a generous spirit.
To paraphrase one of my elementary school teachers, don't do the right thing because you have to, but because you want to.
'Tis the season
CBC is running a campaign this month called Make the Season Kind. The name directly connects to the kind of year it's been, and to that universal ache to find kindness.
This Friday, CBC is organizing the main part of its annual drive for local food banks. You'll hear all about it your local morning show and on our other programs, capping with Here & Now at night.
CBC is also helping you can share and celebrate stories of kindness in your own community. The campaign is offering prizes for a donation … of a story. Click here to learn more.
In the meantime, I hope you find your own moments of kindness, including being kind to yourself.