Okay so once there was a hotel clerk that kept my running shoes under her desk so I’d have ‘em when I traveled there, every month or so. Sneakers are big. Heavy too. Take up the whole danged suitcase. Packing complicated. Glad she did that. Too nice. I was appreciative.
Then there was (well, I guess still is) a restaurant owner that had my favorite drink waiting at the table whenever I visited. I think maybe a couple of places like that, actually. Hard to be that attentive. Really nice. Makes me feel special. I am appreciative.
And wonderful small surprises at the coffee kiosk in the grocery store. “This one’s on us today.” Man, was I sad when, “Here’s my email address. I gave notice. I want you to know where to find me so we don’t lose touch.” Gave me a welcome pound of coffee when I followed her. And a hug. Love coffee; too, too nice. Surely, appreciative.
You’ll never believe this. A jeweler, later a friend, handed me a diamond and gold watch after my husband’s suicide. I'd admired the watch for a while. Are you nuts? “You love the watch. I care about you. Wear it and enjoy it now while everything is sad. One small thing of joy. Some day you’ll pay me. I believe in you.” Holy crap. Now not appreciative. Plain ass stunned.
A friend called it a constellation of stars around me. I call it a blessing. Haven’t always understood. Have always appreciated. Thought it was an accident or something.
An event most curious a few years back. Basil, a limo driver who fetched me at JFK, once, twice, maybe three times a month, over six years of work in Connecticut. A true gentleman. Tall and beautiful. Impeccably dressed. Jamaican, lovely lilting accent. Walked and sat so straight. Showed every centimeter of his stature. A motoring island of calm amidst the screech and the scramble of New York life, traveling north on the 684.
We said our hellos. More to say over time. Association grew, greetings did, too. Swapped stories of work and kids. Settled in the back of his car. A little news, a joke or two. Loved speaking of his early home. Siblings left behind. His mom.
Did his job with elegance. Asked him how he remained unperturbed with putout passengers and traffic. Simply replied, “I’ve made it my mission to restore civility to America.” A small, self-satisfied smile, behind it something saved just for him.
Known each other at least a year. One customary ride he asked to stop the car. Wanted to leave the freeway, turn off in White Plains. Speak to me, he said. “Basil, can’t you speak to me in the car?”
“There’s something I need to say to your face, while looking into your eyes. I cannot do that from here.”
Mind raced. Liked him. Thought well of him but after all he was a stranger. A nice one, but a stranger still. Off the main road? Scared. Felt bad being frightened. Too cautious not to be. Make a decision. Make a decision. Finally he said, “There’s a coffee shop right at the exit, next to the highway. We’ll have coffee and I can talk to you there.” Fear subsided. Started to relax. I agreed.
True to his word, brimming with people, a diner staged close to the freeway. Imagination nearly got me. He asked for the table most remote. Uh-oh. There again. Unease. Tried hard to trust.
Sat down in a booth across from me. Reached in the vest pocket of his bulky overcoat. Pulled out an envelope. Addressed to him. Handed to me. “Open it,” he directed.
Not good with surprises, bad at guessing games. Where is this going? Please someone; can’t we get back in the car? Basil began to speak.
“A few months ago I had a birthday. I reported to work that day and my boss called me to his office. He said he’d received a letter complimenting my work. It was a beautiful letter sent to make him aware of my performance.”
Graceful gestures, deep voice. Jamaican English perfection. “The letter was from you. I wanted to thank you. Face to face.”
“There’s no need to thank me. I hoped it might benefit you if your employers know how well you represent them.”
“There’s more to the story that you must know. The reason I brought you here. Every year on my birthday I do a personal inventory. How am I doing in life, I ask. I stop to consider what I’ve done, and haven’t done. As I did my birthday inventory I thought to myself, she is a woman who does. She does not merely talk. She acts. I realized I do not do that. So I made a decision that I, too, would be a doer. That was your birthday gift to me.
“For a long time I’ve had the idea to speak about teacher - parent collaboration for better education. Because of you I told my idea to someone, and spoke at my child’s school. That led to an engagement at a university. In the envelope is the fee I’ve been paid.”
Inside. A check for $10,000. Basil? Pride and gratitude on his face.
Me? I recovered. From shock at his attribution. From having been so fearful. At losing a driver to Connecticut.
Learned? I see dead people. No, not like the movie. Not dead and think they’re alive. Alive and wonder if they’re dead. No one sees them. Do their business every day. Empty trash faithfully. Dust offices dutifully. Deliver mail without fail. Make coffee perfectly. Drive to Connecticut. Better the job’s done, more undetectable they become.
Stumbling through my life I realize I see people. But they knew it before I did. Pretty sure it’s not more than “thank you”. Occasional question about something they mentioned and I logged in. Before I knew in my head, I knew in my heart. People yearning to be seen. And heard. And known in some small way as they know themselves. More than a job well done. Whole souls brimming with a stories.
Little, tiny, miniature magic kindnesses. Rain joy on the invisible. Comes back a jillion times bigger. Right back at me.
Thank you. One by one, a cuppa coffee here, a soda there, helped me notice me. I'm not just your average joe. I perform random acts of visibility.