There are angels among us. And they seem to be hanging out at my local gas station.
Today I stopped there to fill up my tank. I was tired after an hour and a half of physical therapy, but in a kind of happy stupor because I’d just had a huge sandwich and about a gallon of ice tea under the incredible trees in the courtyard of my favorite restaurant, Hidden House Café, in the San Juan Capistrano Los Rios District.
As I was pumping gas, this very attractive twenty-something young man came over to my car and said, “Would you like your windshield cleaned?” I am recovering from a paralyzed vocal cord, so my voice is hard to hear in noisy places. I said something that he couldn’t hear and he answered, “No worries, I’ll clean your windshield anyway. I was sitting at home with nothing to do and I thought I’d just polish some windshields.”
He proceeded to wash it and wipe it down so that it shone. The whole time I was wondering what his angle was. Was he going to steal the credit card I used to pay for my gas? Grab my keys and steal my car? Did he want a tip? Was he a member of an ashram whose devotes do good works to collect virtue? Later, when I got home, I thought that perhaps he was just unemployed like so many other people today and was trying to pick up a few extra bucks with dignity at a busy gas station that does about fifty cars an hour.
After he was finished, he didn’t approach me for a tip or stand around looking expectant. I couldn’t even have caught up with him because he was off to polish the next windshield with a dazzling smile, radiating the type of energy possessed by people who are beautiful inside and out.
Driving out of the station, I was struck by this thought, “Why is it that when someone does something nice for us, it’s so hard for us just to accept the gift?
I realized that I have been the recipient lately of many such acts of kindness from people who appear out of nowhere, do something good for me, large or small, and then just vanish like genies, as if their only job was to make my day a little easier or brighter. Like the woman I met the other day—at the same gas station, now that I think of it!—who knocked on my car window and asked me who my hairdresser was because I looked “fantastic.” I almost said, “my oncologist,” but stopped myself and told her the name of my hairdresser Kari (whom I haven’t seen in seven months because I was bald for a long time). She replied, “Thanks, that’s a hot tip.” I thought this woman was nuts, but her compliment made me feel like maybe my super-short hair was actually attractive. She made me feel sexy and exotic—and the feeling stuck.
These special delivery love letters from above have dropped into my life so often lately, and in so many strange and unusual ways, that I have begun to feel as if I am some kind of special divine protectorate who is receiving an unusual share of nurture, joy, and outrageous sweetness. God/dess knows, there are times when I need it. (And God/dess does know.)
Anne Herbert wrote, “Practice random acts of kindness and senseless acts of beauty.” For many years when I was living in New York, graffiti artist Keith Haring shared this message in many of his images that graced the walls of subways all over the city. It had a powerful effect on the emotionally armored New Yorkers who saw it everywhere they went, and it became a kind of secret password for an underground brother/sisterhood who decided to start looking people in the eyes and smiling.
What would the world be like if we really took those ideas to heart, opened ourselves to the risk of consciously giving joy every day to loved ones and total strangers? What if we made a revolutionary decision to become an activist for kindness? To let sharing beauty with others be as natural as breathing? What divine breath of imagination and inspiration might pass through us then? What might it feel like to allow the heart to open?
I wish I had chased after that young man and given him a dollar. His sweet spirit was worth much more than that. I just wasn’t prepared. His random act of kindness took me by surprise.
But I can pass it on.
Washing a windshield can change the world.