Dear Nice Lady, Dear Kind Man

Dear Nice Lady, Dear Kind Man,

I am writing to you here because I could not speak to you in person. You were gone too quickly after your acts of kindness towards me and there was neither the time nor the opportunity for chat. Although you will never see this, I thought I should write it for my own good and also in case someone who has never done me such a kindness might read it and know never to do such a kindness themselves.

What did you do that was so kind and yet so terrifyingly dangerous that I hope to never see anyone do it again? 

What could it be?

Well, it’s not much really. Only a little thing. A passing moment in a busy day. But still, without any shadow of a doubt, a true act of kindness. A moment of unselfish generosity. A moment of reaching out and caring for someone you never saw before and who you will probably never see again. Let’s hold that in our minds, as I proceed to tear it all apart. How truly kind a thing it was to do.

I imagine you reading this now, wondering, “Could this be me? Was I the kind one? What did I do?”

You waved me across the street, that’s essentially what you did. And I appreciate you doing it. Can’t you tell? I just hope against hope that you never ever do it again.

I should explain.

Down in the town, somewhere between my house and my office, there is a very busy road. The cars in both directions are a pretty constant stream and the people inside them rarely look left of right, so intent are they on their destinations and the insulated worlds in which they sit.

Luckily, to help with crossing this road, there is a pedestrian crossing. It’s not a fancy zebra or pelican or any animal like that. It’s just a traffic light, green orange red, and a green and a red man for the pedestrians to know when to cross.

I have seen awful things at this pedestrian crossing. Cars that sail through the red light at speed, their drivers having no apparent clue that the light is even there. Mostly those drivers are on their phones, chattering away or, God help us, texting furiously, their face down deep into the steering wheel. Once, an oncoming car stopped righteously on the red and, as I was walking across, the car behind that one overtook it and tore through the red light, very nearly taking me with it.

These terrible things anger or irritate me, depending on what type of day I am having. Sometimes I shrug it off and carry on with my day. Sometimes I shout after the light-breaking fool and flip them an angry finger. Mostly I’m alarmed as I envisage what might happen as a result of this behaviour. Because I’m fairly okay, really, I’m a grown man who has navigated impossible traffic in London and Bangkok and Sydney. I can handle your ill behaviour. But this particular pedestrian light is on the route to and from school for so many young kids. When the little man goes green on the light, and they step out into the melee, do they know that the car bearing down on them might not be inclined to stop? It is a worry.

But, Dear Lady and Kind Man, you are the polar opposite of these maniacs. You are possibly the last caring people in the world and here I am about to put you down. I’m sorry but it’s for all of our own good.

Here’s how I met you.

It’s an awful day. The rain really pelting down. I arrive at the pedestrian crossing, just wanting to be home. I push the button and there’s a wait. There’s always a wait. The traffic is busy and demanding and it doesn’t grind to a halt easily.

So I wait.

And then, Nice Lady and Kind Man, here you come. Not together of course. You are separated by months and sometimes years but still here you come. You see me from your car when hardly anyone ever sees me and you see that it’s raining and that I’m getting wet and you note that you are warm and dry in your car and you do it. You do the most decent thing that anyone will probably do anywhere in that day. You slow your car and you stop. You smile at me warmly and you wave me across.

But the light is still green.

You shouldn’t be stopped. You shouldn’t be waving me across the road.

The road to hell is paved (or, in this case, tarmacked) with good intentions.

You mean well, you mean the very best, but you have to become aware that with your kindness and good intentions you are possibly waving me onward to my doom. The light is still green and the cars behind you may not be able to go anywhere but the cars coming in the other direction see only the green light and they know nothing of me being waved warmly across the road.

You mean well but you are killing me.

At first, I smiled warmly at you and waved you onward. And you went, obviously baffled at my lack of acceptance of your kind offer. But, as time went on, and more and more of your lovely kind appeared, I became ever more frustrated and even angry. As with the non-stopping fools on their phones, I thought of the kid on his way home from school. I thought of you stopping and smiling and waving him out into the gloom and the faint glow of the green light. I thought of the car roaring the other direction, impervious to the child marching out into their path.

These days, when you stop on the green light and smilingly wave me across, I tend to back off as if you have attacked me. I tend to scowl and I try to look mean and upset. I don’t do this to be mean. You can’t hear me in your car and it would take too long for me to try to explain and I would probably terrify you if I tried to do so. All I can do is try to show some visible annoyance at your kind offer and hope against hope that you might suddenly realise why that might be. I don’t think I’ve ever succeeded in this.

So thank you Dear Nice Lady and Dear Kind Man. I appreciate your thoughtfulness and kindness and warmth. But please, don’t stop when you have a green light and please don’t wave me across. It may be the worst kindness you will ever do.

Have a nice day, though.

Thanks for seeing me there.


Jules said...

In Wolverton, when I'm walking home from the railway station of an evening, often in the rain, as I get toward the centre of the town there's a little roundabout which gives access to a supermarket and I'll be halfway across, stood on one of those little triangular paved areas that divide the mouth of the road for the convenience of pedestrians, waiting patiently for a break in the traffic so I can continue my journey up through the town, when someone who is already on the roundabout will stop and wave me across, thus locking the entire flow of traffic and risking the next car rear-ending them.

Now, Wolverton is a little railway town on the edge of the sprawling mass that is Milton Keynes, so I know for a fact that people are familiar with how roundabouts work and thus know that one should never, ever stop in the middle of one, but - since all of that would take far too long to go into - I dash across as quickly as I can manage, hoping to minimise the inconvenience on everybody else.

Anonymous said...

Why do I feel sad and happy at the same time? Yes, these kind people may not realize your intention. I hope they do, for the sake of the children, who may not be aware of the danger the kind act may do to them.

Excellent writing Ken, as usual, you were able to pique my interest. Keep sharing your superb thoughts with the world.

Jim Murdoch said...

We do not live in the world we once did. It wasn’t the greatest of worlds and we whinged about it endlessly because we couldn’t imagine it getting worse which only illustrates what poor imaginations we had and likely still have. Lack of imagination is definitely a form of protection. Civility used to be the norm. Not so much these days. If you’re nice to someone for no good (or at least no bleedingly obvious) reason people are sceptical: What’s your angle? What’s the catch? I do think it’s awful the way we second-guess things these days. Or at least feel we have to. The thing about kindness though is it’s not thought-through; it’s spontaneous mostly. That’s why the person in the car waved you on without realising it was a stupid thing to do. There was no time to come up with an angle; it was a gut reaction. And the sad thing—the really, really sad thing—is we’re sitting here analysing kindness when there was a time when, like poetry and truth, everyone knew what they were and didn’t have to think about it. And they knew what they were for! No one knows what the purpose of poetry or truth or kindness is anymore; they’re defunct. I’ve asked this question before but it’s worthwhile asking again: Do you think Winston Smith knew he was living in a dystopia? I would say not. I would say we are. I don’t know exactly when it happened or if it’s finished happening. But I do know there’s no going back to the please and thank yous of my childhood.

Ken Armstrong said...

I guess, to some extent at least, I am Winston Smith. I don't know that I am living in a dystopia. Things are bad, no doubt, but I would go that far and, in fairness, I was a bit concerned that you would. Despite everything, I seem to maintain a measure of optimism, even why there are few logical reasons why I should do so.

I'm still a real 'please and thank you' kind of a man... most of the time. I'm hoping there's enough of us left to make a difference in due course.