The young man behind the front desk grimaces as we approach.
“Good morning,” my traveling companion initiates, despite all signs that this hotel employee currently harbors little hospitality. “Rough day already?”
He imperceptibly nods.
Julie smiles with sympathy and cautiously presses on, questioning some charges on the room bill. He mumbles an apology, calculates the correct total and hands over a new copy — all without making eye contact.
“Thank you,” she says, not a hint of irony or insincerity in her voice.
We walk away and whisper hopes that this fellow turns his attitude around before the onslaught of guests checking out. We fear that his bad day is about to get much worse.
Though I wasn’t surprised that my friend of 14 years was courteous when others might be haughty, I was touched by her gentle handling in the face of faulty customer service.
Kindness is free, like all the virtues, yet sometimes we hoard it as if we fear we’ll run out. Of course, kindness, like all the virtues multiples when lavished freely.
We witness it all the time. A teenager holds the door open for a line of people, and they nod, smile, say thank you, continuing the day with appreciation for good manners. A child at the park falls down, and three moms rush to the scene to comfort and help.
A madman murders 49 innocent people, and thousands of people line up for hours to donate blood to help the victims still alive. People serve food and water to responders and members of the media. Generous folks from around the country and world donate millions of dollars to support victims and their families. We embrace our children and whisper in their ears, “I love you. I’m glad you are safe. Be kind to others.”
In the face of adversity, it’s unadulterated kindness that soothes the soul.
Yet there are moments when we forget to be kind. We are irritated by perceived slights. We interpret benign comments with malicious intent. We insist that our opinion is the only right way, that our need to be heard trumps everyone else’s need to be understood or even loved.
It’s the end of our girlfriends’ getaway to Santa Fe. The four of us moms, exhausted in a good way from hiking and window-shopping and eating, are on a plane headed to Dallas.
One of the flight attendants begins the usual spiel about exit rows and tray tables, electronic devices and oxygen masks. What’s unusual is her halting, nervous speech. At times she stops altogether, and we can barely hear another attendant prompting with the correct words.
She finishes the script with a tinge of relief in her voice. There’s a pause. Then another voice fills the cabin, informing us that on this flight is a training attendant, who is learning procedures, including how to deliver the pre-flight announcement. We just heard her first attempt.
The entire cabins breaks out into applause, affirming the trainee’s efforts. She walks down the aisle waving and bowing, her nervousness dissipating with every step.
A whole plane full of weary travelers lavished kindness on a stranger. It cost us nothing. And maybe she banked some of those accolades in her heart, to cash in on a future rough day.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.