Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Daily Sketches #5. An Act of Kindness

Krasnoyarsk Museum Center (former Museum of Lenin) where I used to work.
(Photo source - and many more beautiful photos of Krasnoyarsk)

Write about an act of kindness that made you look differently at what kindness is and maybe look differently at life. What was the situation? Maybe it was in your childhood, or maybe it happened last week. Maybe you were the person who was being kind, when someone needed it the most, and maybe did not expect it. If nothing comes to mind, invent!

When I was a university student, I often visited all sorts of theater plays and concerts, everything from classics to pop and jazz music. Wait a minute, jazz burst into my life a bit later, in my early years working for a newspaper, with a man of many talents, from writing and appreciating wine and cheese, to his knowledge of the art of cinema and jazz. There was nothing romantic between us, but he became my guru in the world of jazz, creating and recording his own jazz mixes for such a rooky in jazz as myself, with his own portrait printed on them – in a caricature style, to keep the pathos down. He enjoyed being a guru, and I enjoyed learning, so this model worked for us for quite a while. But I shifted somewhere from my original story.
In my last year of university, I had to find work in the field of my expertise, which was language and literature. And while majority of my classmates choose schools to work for, I had never been interested in a teaching job, and contacted a local museum that was in the process of becoming a museum center and was looking for helpers for the preparation of their very first international museum biennale. I was bright, well-educated and back then not especially confident in my own ideas, but a very good doer, so they were happy to hire me. Other than myself, there was another girl of my age, also in her last year of college, and also named Natasha, but with a very different background from me. Natasha was becoming an architect, and was very talented at her field. Other than talents and bright mind, Natasha had a great sense of humor and kind heart, and we rapidly became good friends, which we remained so even after I quit my job and she was still working for the museum. So that day, I was attending a concert that was a big deal to me, the problem was typical – when a concert finished late, I had to find a place to sleep over in the city, because I lived 40 kilometers away, in a small town, and the last bus to my town was leaving at 9:30 PM back then. Some plays and concerts which took place not too far away from the central bus station, I could attend and then run to be in time for the last bus, while others ended way too late, and I needed a place to stay. It did not happen very often, and usually in such cases I would go out with friends and just stay with them after all, we’d have a great evening and chat all night long, so it was a win-win for everyone. That time though, I did not have a company to go out with me. I invited Natasha, but she was busy finishing her graduation project – she had to stay up late and basically lived in the museum where she had all she needed for the project, versus the small apartment on the other side of town where she lived with her mother, a college professor. Natasha offered me the opportunity to still go to the concert and then just sleep over at her mother’s place. I felt uncomfortable, but she assured me that it would be totally okay with her mom. So that’s what I did. I was a sensitive kid, and apologized probably about a thousand times for all the inconvenience I caused to the woman. If Natasha was there, then it would be her problem to make sure I had a place to sleep and something to eat, but since Natasha wasn’t there, the college professor herself was kind enough to give me a place to sleep and a bite to eat. I slept in Natasha’s room, which I don’t remember very well, but I do remember the bathroom in their small apartment. Natasha wrote down dozens, or maybe hundreds of quotes that somehow touched her, made her think, or made her smile – all in all, made her the person who she was becoming. Never before that had I seen a bathroom (or any room, for that matter) quite like that one, with wisdom written down on wallpaper, from floor to ceiling. I was so surprised by my discovery – I couldn’t not comment to her mother about it. Her response was short and surprised me not less than the wallpaper wisdom itself.
“Natasha is an unusual girl.”
Unusual girl? I don’t think my mom would characterize me like that. Maybe a kind girl, a nice girl, a good student. “Unusual” was not something she saw in me, not when I was 20. When I was 40, maybe. It took her time to see me as a person, not just as her daughter. So when Natasha’s mom said “unusual” about Natasha, well, it was unusual to me to hear and stuck in my mind for the longest time.
When we were leaving the apartment the morning after that, she was going to her job to one college, and I was going to my study, to another college, and as we walked to the bust stop, I apologized and thanked her again, saying that I didn’t even know how to thank her properly and how to pay her back for her kindness. So many things struck me as unusual that day. The unusual stay with my friend’s mother. The unusual bathroom. The unusual definition of a daughter. But the way the woman responded to me was the most unusual of all and changed the way I saw gratitude and kindness forever.
“You don’t need to pay me for what I’ve done. I helped, when I was in a position to do it, and you will help someone else, when you are in a position to do it. And so it will go on. That’s how it works.”
Never before I thought of kindness as a chain. That you do not pay for kindness directly to the one who was being kind to you when you needed it, but there will be times when you will be able to help someone else, and even though it does not seem logical or straightforward (I give to you, and you give back to me), this is exactly how kindness works. This is how it goes on and on, not in short little chains when a few people exchange kindness between each other and do not touch the rest of the world. It’s a long and beautiful sparkly chain that wraps around the whole world, touching magically those who needs it the most right now, this very moment. There will always be someone who will be able to help you, and someone whom you will be able to help. So it will go on and on. And that’s how it works.


  1. I really love this perspective on kindness. It makes so much more sense to me, inside, than a "I did something for you, now you do something for me" view. As you so wonderfully put it, "a long and beautiful sparkly chain that wraps around the whole world, touching magically those who needs it the most right now, this very moment." That's a beautiful perspective that I hope I never forget. Thank you for sharing it and in such a memorable way.

  2. The original pay it forward. How true is this. Kindness isn't a loan to pay back but a gift that grows with each regifting.

  3. Yes, what Justin said!
    I enjoyed the insight into your Russian life. Xo Jazzy Jack

  4. i try to act like this and i met a few people who did it too. but (sadly) for the most kindness and help is a bilateral business....
    the museum looks great in the snow!! :-)
    love! xxxxx

  5. what a beautiful story! I like the way your friend's mother put it....I was in position to help and so I will do the same. That's so simple, but at the same time so deep.