Initially, I didn’t t know why it had been placed on my desk. I worried that it might be a subtle message after someone had witnessed me unwittingly letting a door slam in somebody else’s face or something. Then I got a grip. You don’t do things like that anymore, I told myself.
So I googled “kindness” and mental health and stuff like that, and eventually I discovered that World Kindness Day had taken place the previous Friday, November 13 so it had possibly been on my desk for several days by now
Either I just hadn’t spotted the brightly coloured poster ( the quote it carried by the way was from none other than Aesop of Aesop’s Fables), something which was eminently possible given the current state of my desk, or the donor of the poster was a bit behind the curve when it came to World Kindness Day. Either way, now was not a good time, I thought. I was feeling a bit jaundiced and disillusioned at the time.
I felt a bit like Michael Fagan as played by Tom Brooke in the Netflix episode ofin the scene where Fagan breaks into Buckingham Palace and sits at the end of the Queen’s bed to have a chat. Along with other things, he informs the terrified monarch that people weren’t being so kind to each other anymore.
The incident which inspired this scene happened back in 1982 and Fagan (this was his second nocturnal break-in at Buckingham Palace) apparently never sat on the Queen’s bed, nor indeed had any sort of an in-depth conversation about life and living with her. All the same, as I sat and watchedn dramatization of the whole thing, I had the sinking feeling that Fagan was right, and that worse, given a recent experience, things hadn’t improved much since he made the observation nearly 40 years ago now.
It had been a cold day and I had just arrived outside the door of the butcher’s shop to get the week’s meat, hand in hand with my three-year-old grandson. At around the same time another masked customer walked down the street and stopped outside the shop also, and stood in the middle of the path chatting to someone else. I should clarify now that it was by no means clear whether this person had just stopped for a chat or was waiting to go into the shop. The shop had the by-now familiar yellow Covid sign in the window, warning that only a certain number of people could safely be on the premises together at the same time.
A quick look through the window informed me that the customer-quota at the counter and in the short indoor queue had already been met. I stood waiting near the entrance, but the other lady - who had arrived at the same time as us – halted her conversation, turned around, and stared at us stonily. Then she gestured at us to stand back.
“You can’t go in there,” she said, a bit threateningly I thought. Flustered, I moved back a bit and she kind of stepped into the spot where I had been standing. I wasn’t quite sure what was going on.
“I’m cold,” my grandson said. I zipped his jacket up to the very top and straightened his woolly hat over his ears.
The woman turned to say goodbye to the friend, turned again, gave us a deeply contemptuous look and turned a final time, this time to confront a young man who had also arrived at the entrance to the shop and was now nervously also attempting to gain access. He got The Stare too.
“I actually work here,” he pleaded, and was eventually let through. We stood there for a while.
“I’m cold and shivery,” complained my grandson.
“You’ll be okay,” I said and gave him a hug.
“We won’t be long.”
The woman ahead of us turned and gave us both another stare, reserving a particularly formidable part of it for my small complaining companion. Then one of the customers inside finished her business and exited the shop, and, pivoting on her heel, the woman ahead of us started to enter the premises leaving us standing outside. First, though, she took it upon herself to make the situation quite clear: “You have to stay out here,” she reminded us. I was stunned.
I’m no Mother Theresa, but it was a bitterly cold afternoon and if it had been the other way round, I would most definitely have let a woman with a small child into the shop before me. I think most normal and decent-thinking people would have done the same – wouldn’t they?
But this “Karen” - and if you don’t know what a “Karen” is, Wikipedia defines her as an entitled or demanding person beyond the scope of what is either appropriate or necessary – or indeed, a white woman who uses her privilege to demand he own way at the expense of others. At any rate, this lady didn’t give a second thought to the small boy shivering in the cold.
She was masked and oozing self-righteousness. I don’t know who she was from Adam but later on, and purely for my own edification, and, no doubt, inspired by the mammoth sense of irritation and helplessness she left me with, I googled “Karens.” And believe it or not, this particularly nasty version not only had the attitude. She had the haircut. I kid you not.
So yeah, when the laminated Act of Kindness sheet landed on my desk a few days later, I wasn’t in the most receptive frame of mind. I was, as I said, tending towards Michael Fagan’s world view. But then I thought about all the real acts of kindnesses people had done me over the years; many of them complete strangers – the man who so kindly helped me years ago when my car broke down at twilight on a lonely back road, people who held doors open for me when I was young mum struggling with a baby in a buggy and a recalcitrant toddler, people who did me endless little casual kindnesses in the workplace giving everything from advice to practical assistance. It’s true.
No act of kindness, no matter how small is ever wasted. Because even if you don’t recognize it as such at the time, there is truly no doubt that at some time you will recall a little act of kindness. And you should do a random kind act for somebody every day no matter how jaundiced we’re feeling. One Karen shouldn’t be allowed to ruin the barrel of apples, now should she?