When I got outside I was not at all surprised (though somehow, even still, dismayed) to see my car buried in the snow. My Subaru was one of only two in the lot, the other a truck, with a man I hardly noticed waiting for the engine to warm.
Resignation. I ran a gloved hand around the frame of my car door, relieved when the snow flaked off, no coat of ice lurking beneath. At least it would clear off easily. I sat down, legs outside, put my keys in the ignition. And looked up as my snow-cave car brightened in sunlight.
The man from the other car had wiped his snow-brush, the size of a janitor’s broom, across my front window. Another quick stroke cleared the snow from my back window and that awkward triangle back back window. I grinned at him. In five seconds he had spared me five minutes cold work. “Thanks!” I yelled through the glass.
He gestured with the brush. “Close your door!” Then he quickly cleared off the rest of my car while I sat comfortable and happily bemused. When he finished, he opened the passenger door, peered in, and said, “You have a NICE day.”
Weeks or months ago: just before the downpour started I realized my front tire was flat. Found my jack missing, called AAA, got the spare on. The spare was also flat, but fortunately, not all the way.
I drove slowly and neurotically to the gas station and realized I wasn’t sure how to use the air pump. I pulled out my phone and texted my husband for advice.
Meanwhile I climbed out of the car and compared the air tube to my tire with some puzzlement. I noticed the tag on my tire with psi recommendations just before Matt texted me to look on my tire for psi recommendations.
Perhaps 45 seconds had passed from the time I parked my car when another car drove toward me. Before he even came to a stop, he leaned on the horn.
At first I thought he must be honking at someone else. I made the universal “what?” sign with my hands and shoulders. I glanced back at at the air tube, almost defensively. I wasn’t sure how to use the psi recommendation since I didn’t have a tire pressure gauge.
The man climbed out of his car. He was redfaced and breathless with rage. “Are you going to use it or talk on your phone!?”
Anger prompted anger, but I did my best to stay calm. “Well I’m trying to figure out how to use this,” I tried to explain. “I’ve never had a flat tire before.”
He shouted over me. “Are you going to use that? So why are you playing on your phone!?”
“I’m talking to my husband, he’s helping me-”
“Why are you blocking the air pump while you talk on your phone!”
Finally I gave up and yelled back. “My husband is telling me how to use the air through the phone! Why don’t you back off so I can use it?”
He glared at me, purple now. “A PHONE won’t help you do that!” He drove off.
My car was in front of the air pump for a total of five minutes. Most of that was yelling: once the man left I took about a minute to figure out how to insert the air tube and took a guess at tire pressure. After I saw the flat, it took me 20 minutes (in the rain) to admit I couldn’t find the jack, 45 minutes for AAA to get there, and another 15 minutes (in the POURING rain) to get the spare on.
I missed a doctor’s appointment, hoped I wouldn’t need to cancel my hair cut, and stressed about having to buy new tires, but even damp and rushed, I wasn’t in a bad mood until that self important jerk started screaming at me.
Small gestures, kind or mean, can have an incredible impact. When I was a kid in a Catholic school we had “Random Acts of Kindness” week. It was beyond lame. An obvious shortcoming was that orchestrating something like that sort of negates the whole “random” aspect. The suggestions were stupid and forced, the whole process brought with it a cumbersome self consciousness.
I can see now though, the hopeful mind behind it. When I feel the flush of happiness caused by something so simple, (or the fury caused by a minute of thoughtlessness) it’s easy to believe the world can be changed in small, slow pushes. I remember the movie “Pay it Forward.” It was an interesting concept, but honestly a bit unbelievable. The problem with “pay it forward” as the Sixth Sense kid imagined it is that it depends on such large acts. The movie implied that you have to give an awful lot to get anywhere, but I don’t think that’s true.
Maybe the things we do for (and to) people, the things that could change the world, can be so tiny we hardly realize we’re doing them. As small as yelling, as brushing off some snow, a snide comment or a compliment. Maybe the cascade will be so slow we won’t see the effects in our lifetimes, but that doesn’t mean they go nowhere. Every day we change the world.
*domino photo from Malkav