Kindness Is Universal
This past Sunday, Pond House Cafè hosted it’s annual company holiday party where we exchanged secret Santa gifts. (Yes, I know it's basically February...Don’t judge us. We’re not exactly a functional group. 😅 )
Back around Thanksgiving, we picked secret Santa names from a hat and I got my coworker Alex, a dishwasher.
Fast forward a few weeks and Alex and I are in the storage room together. I come right out and say “Alex, I know who has you for secret Santa!” Of course, he tried to get it out of me, but I maintained the image that it was someone else who had him. I asked him what he would like as his gift and he said “I don’t want or need anything. Please tell whoever has me to buy a blanket or sweater for someone in need.” My heart did a dance.
Fast forward to the day of the party.
Sure enough, Sunday rolls around and it’s finally time to exchange gifts. My procrastinating self didn’t purchase or prepare his gift till that day. (Whoops).
I went to Walmart unsure of what I wanted to get but saw several individuals outside with “homeless and hungry” signs so I knew there was room to make a difference. I was able to identify one man who looked particularly cold and went inside to shop.
When I walked in, the first thing I saw was a sweater that said “Kindness is Universal” staring me in the face. Sold! Now I just needed hot food/coffee and some hand warmers to round it out.
I headed over to the Dunkin on the other side of the parking lot and (for the first time) ordered the Beyond Meat sausage patty! (To veganize it: you order the beyond sausage patty on an English muffin with *NO CHEESE OR EGG* and ask for hash browns and ketchup. Boom. Sandwich.) I also ordered a coffee with almond milk. [As far as is possible, I will never use my money to purchase anything that exploits anyone. It wouldn’t make sense for me to harm one being to help another, would it? Remember, kindness is universal. Not specific to any one species, ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, age, nationality, etc. None of that matters.]
I drove back over to where I saw the gentleman standing and he was gone! I was really disappointed but hopped back in my car to see if there was anyone else around who might appreciate a meal while it was still hot. I rounded the corner and saw a cute little lady asking for food. I was sad to see someone else in that situation, but glad I had the means to help. Besides, the sweater would look way better on her anyway.
I parked and went over to talk to her. I told her the entire string of events that led me to her and she said she felt very lucky to have crossed paths with me. Her name is Patty. 😊
She had been out there in the cold for 4.5 hours and collected a mere 8 dollars. She said this was a normal day. I asked Patty where she normally sleeps at night and she said that on very bitter nights, her and her two relatives who are also homeless go to the warming center.
Unfortunately, Patty was on her way to the hospital because her daughter had collapsed that morning. Patty, having just been diagnosed in her 60’s with colon cancer, also collapsed recently and had to go to the hospital where she learned the bad news. She was worried the same might be happening to her daughter. I mentioned the strong link between colon cancer and meat consumption and informed her that her everything I got her was vegan. (Pro tip: it is imperative to check for allergies when giving out food/beverages, especially with nut products). She said she and her son have been hearing about all the new research on plant-based diets, but unfortunately, vegan products are not yet accessible enough to be practical for people in her situation. (Makes me proud to work at VegReady, a mission-driven company whose goal is to make plant-based eating accessible to all in order to prevent (and reverse) disease, save the planet, and the animals. If only I had a #VegReady meal on me to give her!)
Patty told me about her life back in Norwich three years ago before she lost it all when she started to have to take care of relatives. I travel for activism a lot, and I talk to a lot of people in similar situations. Sometimes I even sit down and eat with them. I hear a lot of stories. It’s important to remember that everyone has a story (including us) and when we make assumptions or discredit them, we take that away from them based solely on prejudice.
The last thing I gave Patty was a little gift-card style card called The Kindness Card Experiment.
I had been holding onto it since July 2017 when it was given to me. The founder and director of Catskill Animal Sanctuary and personal friend of mine, Kathy Stevens, gave it to me when she heard I had brought iced tea and sunscreen to a woman in a comparable situation.
Basically, a NYC non-profit gave out 5,000 of these cards in Manhattan to see where they’d go and what people would do with them. Each card had a unique code and when you received it, you would follow the instructions on the back and go to the website. If you pinned your location and shared the story of how you got it, you could redeem a $10 cash reward. Then, you keep the card in your wallet and pass it on when you see someone else commit an act of kindness. And so it goes. So, as you can imagine, this spread far and wide. Really interesting stuff. Read more about it here. This entire experiment was all designed with the goal of combating negativity and hoping to start a new ripple effect of kindness and positivity. And it did. And it still is.
I held onto the card all this time because the experiment ended and it’s a memento from my magical summer living at CAS. But it was time to pass it on, and now Patty is out there somewhere spreading kindness. I remember from my time interning there that The Kindness Card Experiment also supported CAS generously. What goes around comes around.
Don’t limit your kindness to certain people and scenarios. Widen your circle of compassion to encompass all beings. We live longer, healthier, more meaningful lives when we just *be kind*.
“Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.”
- Dalai Lama XIV
And for anyone who’s still wondering about secret Santa: I also got Alex a gift so he would have something tangible at the party when everyone else was opening presents from their secret Santa. Along with his gifts, I had the photos above developed so he could see I honored his wish. When Alex saw the pictures, he gave me a hug and started to tear up. Turns out he was homeless a few years ago himself and that was why he asked for what he did.
And my secret Santa? Glad you asked. My secret Santa was Kaylee, my best friend and work wife who has been LYING TO MY FACE about who she had for MONTHS but I forgive her because she got me awesome vegan related gifts including several avocados...so I can’t stay mad.)
Thank you to Pond House Cafè for being an awesome place to work, Dunkin for having #vegan options, Alex for being a compassionate human and kicking off this sequence of events, Catskill Animal Sanctuary for still bringing me joy from afar, The Kindness Card Experiment for being epic, and Patty for keeping it all going.
Kindness is universal.