I spent a lot of time this week thinking about kindness. During brunch, last weekend with a group of Americans and Canadians living in Mexico, we talked about how much we appreciate the small acts of kindness we experience here. A child passing by on the street makes eye contact and says “Buenas tardes.” A teenager offers their seat on the bus or even helps an elder down the stairs! We shared our experiences of being warmly welcomed as immigrants! We also talked about the hatred spewing constantly from the Whitehouse and we talked about the need for more compassion and kindness in the world. I shared how my beloved Seattle had changed, and how little compassion for others I felt or saw there anymore. In a city now bursting with money, it feels angrier. Despite the mindboggling amount of wealth, King County has the third largest homeless population in the US! Shockingly, most people seem to believe this is just “the way things are” or even worse the way they are supposed to be. The majority walk past the people who are homeless but refuse to see them. However, some people choose kindness. These are the stories that need to be shared.
Please digest the powerful words of Shelli Kountz – written in tribute and describing kindness in action. I hope these words are a call to action. We need a kindness revolution.
Today a man died at the store where I serve coffee and snax.
His name was Tomas and he was homeless.
I first saw him a year or so ago perched on a well visited ‘get high’ wall behind a gas station. He didn’t seem to be too invested in the local traffic of users and other broken types, just posted up drinking beer all day. The regulars seem to let him have it. I said “Hi” a few times before he authentically responded and his eyes were very warm despite having the desperate gloss of broken vision. He would wave or nod once he realized I was always going to be passing him because I too called this little intersection home. I asked him to hold the free parking spots that were so coveted and he would always gesture assuredly … even though he only actually got up once to hold the spot.
He had powers I suppose; I always managed to get the spot even when my car was around the corner.
This summer it got so hot in Seattle, much higher than the norm and one day he was just sitting there, full sun, sweating terribly. I asked him if he had any water (he did not) and chided him to stay hydrated. I told him he could fill up at the Co-op, also part of our little intersection, for 50 cents if he had a container. He didn’t – so I grabbed one of mine and told him I would bring him some later. I did. I told him I would fill it up for him anytime because I had to get some as well. That became our pattern for a few weeks and one day he asked me to show him. We walked down to the co-op and went to the back where the purifier stood for all to access. I showed him the machine and said just come fill up anytime and I’ll pay for it. I told my friend/coworkers from the Co-op what I would be doing and they said “cool”. As the weather shifted, I tried to convince him to come into my store and get some coffee but he always just nodded politely until one day he joined me crossing the street. I brought him in, took him to the coffee service, handed him some snax, told him to chill – “just help yourself”. I made it clear that he could come in anytime and do the same; he started to show up and enjoy the hospitality. He was always kind about it and even got to try some demos I was testing. He liked the demos and the cheeses… I always offered him the special cheeses we would open for the crew.
He was a mutterer but he would raise his eyebrows and pop his glossy eyes when the cheese was really good. He knew food!
Soon he was picking up an occasional banana, grabbing some coffee, and routinely enjoying the welcoming space. This had been our pattern for many moons but today he suffered an attack and literally perished on the bench at our front door. The EMTs tried but to no avail. As I arrived at work a co-worker happened to catch me before I entered and told me the news. He knew I cared for Tomas because he saw me do it and knew I would be upset. I was deeply saddened and cried from the shock. But I pulled it together and went in and there he lay in front of our time clock, all covered up in white, with about 5 syringes next to him – the adrenaline did not help, I suppose.
I was the only one who knew his name was Tomas
I told the EMTs the little I knew about his health. Gout for sure possibly diabetic… Then I asked if I could be with him for a moment but the EMT paused so I said, “Please, I’m probably one of the only people that can be…” I didn’t know I would say that but each word ran as truth thru me and I knelt down and placed a hand on his still warm heart. I patted his pot belly a little and told him he was a very nice man. I touched his head and blessed his freedom, his opportunity to rest. Long story, but please remember that we are each others keepers and I am so glad he felt welcome enough to be there when his Spirit left. He could’ve just been one of many who dies on the streets but he wasn’t today. He was someplace where he was welcome and cared for on a nice bench, not some neglected wall behind a gas station.
And all it took was a little water offered on a hot day.