A Mental Anomaly
I don’t feel like I question the belief systems that my parents instilled in me enough. If you were to ask me what they were, I could give you the American Beauty Pageant-esque answer, sure. But it’s in those moments of examining human nature in which I get stuck and marvel—those are for me the revealing factor of what I had come to expect and what I came to the table unprepared for.
Example: It’s raining Floridian torrential downpour outside—the likes of which misty and dreary-eyed Boston is typically unaccustomed to—and I’m standing in the middle of a forgotten square on the outskirts of town waiting for the bus. It’s nearly poetic; I’m under a street light with a 50s still diner behind me, a Dunkin’ Doughnuts to my right, a gas station to my left, and a hardware store across the street. If I wasn’t getting soaked and brooding about the books in my bag getting wet, I’m sure I would have appreciated it. And then up pops a young Asian woman with a little umbrella. With little cartoonish frogs on its flaps. She’s waiting for the bus too. Five minutes go by, and I’m checking my phone for the bus estimations like a sports junkie checking the scores, and all of a sudden she’s standing right next to me, shoulder-to-shoulder, so that I’m not standing out in the rain anymore. And I manage a guffaw and a loud “Thank you,” and by her smiling nod and pensive reaction it registers that she doesn’t feel comfortable speaking English. So there we stand, all sorts of cultural and social boundaries broken, and it occurs to me that I am not prepared for random acts of human kindness. They still throw me off.
The bus arrives and she gestures for me to get on first, so I scurry on, completely ignoring the fact that someone’s trying to exit the bus at the same time. I pay my fare, race to the back, and hope to hide behind someone else so that we don’t have to do that awkward We-had-a-moment-and-after-saying-goodbye-ended-up-walking-in-the-same-direction-thing, only for 20 minutes in rush hour traffic. And after I sit down, I see her still at the front of the bus paying her fare and it hits me that I could have repaid her kindness by buying her fare. And then a wave of nauseating guilt washes over me for not paying this woman’s fare. Like there’s a kindness tally somewhere and by not repaying in my turn I’ve contributed to some kind of kindness deficit out there.
Like I’m going to receive a bill from the cosmos in two to three weeks for good deeds left unsettled.
I don’t know why I’ve always felt unprepared for that. Kidnappers, sure. Thieves, rapists, crazy religion enthusiasts—I was standing under a street light and knew the most logical paths of egress for a reason. But throw somebody nice at me and my head cracks.