Be Kind

On Christmas, I was watching the Doctor Who Christmas Special, “Twice Upon a Time,” as one is apt to do on this day. It was a fun episode, but the real kicker everyone was waiting for (including me) was the regeneration scene. One of the more innovative ideas of Doctor Who is that when the lead actor decides it’s time to move on from the role, a new actor steps in and the character basically turns into the actor and away we go in his (or her) police phone box ship for adventures in time and space. These regeneration scenes have been pivotal in the run of the show, and the latest one was no exception.

In his last scenes, Peter Capaldi, the current actor in the role, was given a long monologue. In it, he offered up some choice advice for his new incarnation. Among the not eating pears joke, he implores his new self to be kind. In fact, he says it twice.

If you’re only passingly familiar with the titular British hero, the Doctor doesn’t use guns, he’s called books the greatest weapons in the world, and is not a traditional action hero most Americans would recognize. His last few incarnations have been skinny men in sharp suits who aren’t the buff and athletic type. So, having the Doctor tell the next Doctor (and the audience, of course) always to be kind is essential.

Families watch Doctor Who together and when the hero who doesn’t look like most heroes, is a bit of bookworm, quietly strong, and whip-smart says “be kind,” the children listen.

We could all use a little more kindness in the world.

. . .

Case in point, my step-daughter has “late start” on Wednesday, and my wife takes her to school. The rest of the week falls on me to take her, but Wednesdays are Mom and daughter time.

Last year, they started a tradition of going to McDonald’s for breakfast. It’s a fun little treat that became one of their “things.” I wasn’t even aware they were doing this until several months ago when a wonderful occurrence happened, and my wife told me the story.

The two of them were doing their regular Wednesday morning McDonald’s run when as they came up to the window to pay they were told the person in the car ahead of them had already paid for their breakfast. It completely changed the rest of their day. That particular morning was going along terribly. They were running late, worried about classes and meetings and the kindness of a stranger turned their day from upside down to right side up.

The following Wednesday the two of them decided they would pay for their breakfast and the breakfast of the car behind them. It was their small way of spreading kindness. They get a few friendly honks and waves if they can still see the car behind them. It is always appreciated.

Relatively recently, they did their usual paying for their breakfast and the person behind them as well. They had to pull up and wait for their order, so the car behind them received their food and passed them honking and waving frantically to express their gratitude. And then the next car did the same, and the next, and the next. The two of them deduced a chain reaction of kindness happened and the car behind them paid for the car behind them and so on. Since they were still waiting for their order, the drivers assumed it was my wife and step-daughter who had paid for all of them. It wasn’t true, and they felt a little embarrassed taking the credit, but it made everyone smile for just a little bit, and it only cost a few dollars.

We all should be so lucky to be in a chain reaction of kindness.

. . .

Flipping through my channels, I stumbled upon the David Bowie documentary on the last five years of his life. I was never a big Bowie fan growing up, but as I’ve gotten older, my musical tastes have branched out a bit farther than my usual wheelhouse of classic rock. Especially after his untimely death, I started listening to more Bowie music and found much of it worthy of my attention and admiration.

Watching the documentary, I was struck by the personas he put on over the decades. There’s a line in it where he says he was always a bit shy, but when he turned himself into Aladdin Sane or Ziggy Stardust, it was a bit easier. I still get surprised when larger than life people remind us that deep down inside we’re all human. We all have our little fears and ways to cope.

I remembered a story told late last year about an interaction Bowie had with an autistic boy. Novelist Paul Magrs wrote about how his friend met Bowie at a screening of the movie, Labyrinth. His friend uses the words “withdrawn” and “shy” to describe his autism at the time. Magrs let his friend tell the story, and he wrote it down:

‘I was withdrawn, more withdrawn than the other kids. We all got a signed poster. Because I was so shy, they put me in a separate room, to one side, and so I got to meet him alone. He’d heard I was shy and it was his idea. He spent thirty minutes with me.

‘He gave me this mask. This one. Look.

‘He said: ‘This is an invisible mask, you see?

‘He took it off his own face and looked around like he was scared and uncomfortable all of a sudden. He passed me his invisible mask. ‘Put it on,’ he told me. ‘It’s magic.’

‘And so I did.

‘Then he told me, ‘I always feel afraid, just the same as you. But I wear this mask every single day. And it doesn’t take the fear away, but it makes it feel a bit better. I feel brave enough then to face the whole world and all the people. And now you will, too.

‘I sat there in his magic mask, looking through the eyes at David Bowie and it was true, I did feel better.

‘Then I watched as he made another magic mask. He spun it out of thin air, out of nothing at all. He finished it and smiled and then he put it on. And he looked so relieved and pleased. He smiled at me.

‘’Now we’ve both got invisible masks. We can both see through them perfectly well and no one would know we’re even wearing them,’ he said.

‘So, I felt incredibly comfortable. It was the first time I felt safe in my whole life.

‘It was magic. He was a wizard. He was a goblin king, grinning at me.

‘I still keep the mask, of course. This is it, now. Look.’

David Bowie’s understanding of this young man I’m sure was a direct reflection of the struggle Bowie had with his own fame and public persona. This interaction was a beautiful reminder of how a simple act of kindness could make a difference.

I can imagine the scene perfectly. How he likely used his improvisation and acting skills during the entire conversation and turned thirty minutes of kindness into one of the most meaningful of acts.

. . .

A little over six years ago, I was invited to go to an Illinois basketball game by an acquaintance. I had worked with Dr. David Graham when we were both employed by Carle Clinic/Hospital. At that time, I was out of work and not feeling particularly happy about my lot in life. So, when he texted about the game, it pulled me out of that particular funk for a little while.

We had a great time. I have no idea if Illinois won or not, but we talked about the future of his podcast, his cool new jacket, and practically everything else except how my prospects of becoming employed were looking. He knew I was not working and looking for a new position, but he never once brought it up. He knew I would enjoy the game, invited me and we had fun. It was his way of trying to be kind in a way I would appreciate and I certainly did.

On my way back to my car after the game, I saw the weather had turned colder and the rain from earlier turned to sleet and ice covered everyone’s cars. The parking lot wasn’t much removed from being a skating rink.

I was thinking about how that small act of kindness was making me feel a bit better when I came upon an elderly woman, who was apparently coming from the game too, trying to clean the ice off her car. Immediately, I told her I could do that for her and why don’t you get in the warm car. She was overjoyed someone was helping her and in a few minutes I had the ice removed and she was on her way.

Being kind was an inspirational act. Someone showed me kindness and, in turn, I showed a stranger some kindness. It’s also good to remember; there isn’t a finite amount of kindness. You can’t ever use it up. I might even say the more kind you are, the more kind people are around you.

In 2018, one of my small, simple goals is to be kind. Unsurprisingly, kindness generates more kindness. Kindness can make a difference. You may never know what that difference is or what the change in the world you helped create becomes, but putting more kindness out into the world is the right thing to do. It puts smiles on people’s faces and it adds a tiny bit of light into the darkness.

Get after that light and be kind.