By Dr. Tim Woodroof
We met running through the Atlanta airport, trying to catch a connecting flight to Jacksonville. We labored side by side for a few moments and then she dropped behind gasping. I yelled over my shoulder that I’d have them hold the plane for her.
Sadly, the gate was already closed when I got there. We watched our plane sitting right outside the window—so close and yet so far. My new friend let fly with a few choice expletives. Her reddening face was not solely the result of her physical exertions—she was doing a slow boil about the fact that (once again) the Atlanta airport had extracted its pound of flesh.
Acting in Anger
We retraced our steps to the help desk where my friend, met with attitude and apathy, proceeded to give the lady behind the counter a piece of her mind. Embarrassed, I grabbed my new boarding pass and moved away. Sometimes, a little distance is a good thing.
But she stopped me. “Mister! Did they give you a meal voucher for your inconvenience?”
I turned. “No. I didn’t ask for one.”
She looked at the airline representative. “He’ll need a meal voucher!” It wasn’t a request. It was a command. I couldn’t help but smile as the representative—singed around the edges—hustled to comply.
We had two hours before catching our flight. I lifted my voucher and arched an eyebrow. “Buy you lunch?”
We sat and talked as we ate our airport fast food. Her name was Sonny. She was on her second marriage. Her husband suffered from chronic pain and was not an easy man to be around. The kids were struggling. Three grandbabies. A job she enjoyed but one that kept her on the road all the time. “Life is hard,” she said after telling me about herself. “It’s never what you expect, is it?”
She started in again on the woes of modern travel, on airline incompetence and unresponsive representatives. “I don’t like going off on people like that. But she got exactly what she deserved.”
I couldn’t help but smile. “Just between you and me, Sonny, I’m glad most people treat me better than I deserve. I’m one of those EGR people—Extra Grace Required.”
“Yeah. But people like that will never learn unless you put the fear of God in them.”
Compelled by Kindness
I thought about that for a moment. “Sonny, I am not a kind man by nature. I’m too driven, too selfish. Squeeze me very hard, and what comes out is not kindness. But I’ve learned over the years that kindness is a powerful thing. Unexpected kindness. Undeserved kindness. Kindness shown to friends and family. Kindness shown to strangers. Seems to me that kindness is one of the only things people learn from. ‘Flies with honey rather than vinegar.’ That sort of thing.”
She shook her head. “Kindness doesn’t work,” she said. And a look crossed her face that told of past pains, distant disappointments, raw regrets. I felt my heart go out to her. She was a lost soul, trying to navigate her way to happiness without any fixed star in her firmament.
“I have a little exercise that helps me when I have to deal with difficult people or circumstances. It’s something I use to counter my uglier inclinations.” I smiled at her again. She was listening closely. “I tell myself, ‘Kill `em with kindness.’ It’s become a mantra with me. The worse they act, the ruder they are, the more incompetent they seem, the harder I try to shovel out the kindness. I’ve been amazed at how persistent kindness and undeserved grace thaw people. Give them what they don’t expect and it surprises them into giving back something better.”
Her head tilted to one side as she listened.
“Besides, even if it doesn’t make a difference in them, it makes a difference in me. I feel better about being kind. Kindness is easier to live with.”
She chewed on that as she chewed on the last of her sandwich. “Good exercise,” she finally admitted. “Maybe I’ll try that next time. Where did you learn to do that?”
Ahh! There it was. My chance.
So I told her.
Dr. Tim Woodroof is a freelance writer and speaker. He and his wife Julie make their home in Nashville, Tennessee.