Today, as I was biking to work, things were really going my way. Specifically, the wind was at my back and my shuffle was picking great stuff. As a result, I was hauling ass down the bike path, and since there were fewer people using the path than usual (it’s usually a complete zoo), I was cruising at a speed usually reserved for dipshits wearing lycra advertising suits and gopros on their helmets. The trip sometimes takes me up to 45 minutes. Today it took me 18. Anyway, none of this is the point. I was flying along, and this pretty girl on her bike looks up at me as I’m passing and says something I can’t hear right as I go by. Now, before we get too far, let me clarify that she was probably eleven. I’m not talking about a “Pretty Girl” in the traditional sense, but she was, to be sure, a very pretty little girl and that’s significant in this overall story. Here’s what went through my head:
“Was she talking to me?”
“I wonder what that was about?”
“Dude! She was totally pulling her bike over and saying ‘excuse me.’ She needed help of some kind.”
“Should I turn around?”
I looked back. I was already so far past her and there were a bunch of people between us.
“Well, she was a cute little girl. Someone’s gonna stop and help her.”
“BUT DUDE!!!!” I thought to myself, “YOU are at least a compassionate and normal, non creep. If your daughter was looking for help on the bike path, who would you want to stop and help her?”
“Yeah. Probably me.”
“Well, I feel like shit about this. Are we gonna turn around?”
“Uh…no. We have to get to work, dude.”
And so began the beginning of what’s sure to be a guilty memory that haunts me for the rest of my life. I’m not exaggerating. Being on time to work, having a good ride on my bike, none of that means shit compared to offering to help a child in distress…although to be fair, she didn’t look like she’d been crying, or was scared. She may have just wanted to know if Belmont was left or right. I don’t know. But I do know that I ignored a kid who needed something and I feel like absolute shit about it.
Recently, George Saunders delivered a pretty inspirational commencement speech to the 2013 Syracuse graduating class. He mentioned a girl who was kind of a quiet dweeb from his gradeschool days, and how one of his biggest regrets was that he wasn’t kinder to her. It doesn’t matter that he wasn’t overtly mean. To Saunders, the unshared kindness killed him. I know exactly what he means.
When I was in 5th grade a girl in my class, kind of dweeby, in heart shaped glasses and a pretty severe woman-who-does-the-costumes-in-the-Incredibles haircut took her turn reading her poem about herself out loud to the class. I don’t remember what my poem was that day, and I don’t remember what anyone else’s was. But this girl’s poem opened with the line “on the inside, I’m ugly. On the outside, I’m ugly.” That’s a rough way to feel, ever. It’s particularly heartbreaking for a kid to feel that way. I feel that, after hearing that incredibly sad, incredibly heavy poem, I should have made it a small bit of my business to try and be cool and help her feel more part of something, more worth a shit than she did, but I never did anything. I mean, I wasn’t mean to her…at least I don’t think I ever was. But man, I don’t recall ever goin out of my way to ask how she was doing or if she wanted to get lunch or help me draw Garfield. I mean…how heartbreaking is that shit? “On the inside, I’m ugly. On the outside, I’m ugly.” Dark. I guess I dunno if she wanted to draw Garfield with me. She probably didn’t. Just an example.
It’s easy to help someone in serious distress. You barely have time to think when, for example, an old lady falls down in the street. You just react. Similarly, it’s easy to be kind of a dick. You’re having a bad day and someone cuts you off or fucks up your sandwich order and you roll your eyes or flip em off through your windshield. The hardest thing, and maybe the most important thing, is just being kind in those tiny, quiet moments where a little kindness is just the thing that will change the world a just the teensiest bit for the better. Those missed opportunities really, really suck. I missed it today and I feel like shit. To borrow a phrase: on the inside, I’m ugly. On the outside, I’m ugly.
Uh…that’s all. Be cool to each other.