Saturday, January 19, 2013

Awareness of Life

Living in a big city sometimes makes you less trusting. You learn to toughen to the people around you. Your mother tells you not to talk to strangers. You have eyes on the back of your head as you walk at night. You tune out the homeless man that you see ever day on your way to work. You stay anonymous. You keep your head down. You disconnect, put on your headphones, and tune out your environment.

Leaving the city for the mountains of New Mexico last fall made me realize the bubble I had built around me. I began my trip with pepper spray in fist. It was the first time I had planned a trip by myself, to a place I had never visited, to stay with people I had never met before. I kept my rolly suitcase close and my cell phone even closer. My first night, spent in Santa Fe, I walked alone down the street to get myself dinner and had never felt so afraid that I would be pulled into a car or assaulted on the street. Why? Because I was a woman and I was alone and I had been told again and again that you can't trust anyone.

But it became tiring to keep watch. A mishap on the train involving a fatal encounter with four cows on the rails began to soften me. As the woman next to me joked about picking a steak off of the rails for dinner, I smiled at the man across from me. I opened up to a young college student who shared my room at the hostel about herbalism. And shockingly, after arriving in Taos, NM, I found myself being picked up at the local Super Save by a woman I had never met or even spoken to on the phone. I was fed, had my palms read, and was given blankets and sheets for my own cabin all in exchange for my help around the hostel.

But I still held back. I kept locks on my suitcases and pepper spray in my pocket. I kept a padlock on my cabin door even when my fellow travelers left their doors open at all times. I kept my belongings close, and never told anyone any of my secrets.

One day, while walking out to the garden near my cabin a woman approached me. She asked if I had a few dollars to put gas in her car. She was looking for a friend at the hostel where I stayed and had not realized she had been so low on gas. If she could get a couple of gallons into her tank she could drive herself home to get her wallet so that she could then fill up her tank.

The city me screamed "Scam!" I had heard the sob stories before- my children are ill, I just lost my job, I need spare change to buy myself a cup of coffee to warm up. I had learned to tune them out. They could find someone else to help them, but I wasn't going to be the sucker who gave in.

Then I remembered the kindness of strangers as they gave me rides, bought me food, opened their doors to me. If I could not help, who would? I was jobless, and on a budget, but I told the woman I might have a few dollars in my room. As I handed her $3, she said she would pay me back. I told her thank you but not to worry. I thought to myself that I would never see the money again, because who would trouble themselves to come all the way back to return $3?

Later that day, I walked up to the door of my cabin to find a beautiful white mum wrapped in tissue stuck into the handle of my door, and three dollar bills slipped under my doorway. I was stunned.

Small acts lead to small changes, lead to confidence, lead to larger acts, bigger changes, more compassion. Remember the small act of kindness in your life that turned your day around. Return the favor. Compassion lives in each of us, and can be shown in the smallest way. So pass it on today and live with awareness and compassion.

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