I performed a Random Act of Kindness yesterday. I didn’t intend to. It just snuck up on me.
I had a meeting at a coffee shop. As I approached the shop, an elderly gentleman was making his way there too. I held the door and greeted him. As we entered, we continued to make small talk. He had a small smile and a twinkle in his eye. I’m sure that being chatted up by a blonde young woman made his day. At the till, it hit me, “A latte please, and I’ll buy whatever this gentleman wants too.” I was aglow. It was like it’d been smacked upside the head with a magic fairy wand with fairy dust still trickling down over my ears and into my eyes. Everything suddenly changed; I had been in a good mood before, but now I radiated.
I bid adieu to the elderly gentleman and took a seat at the meeting’s table. The meeting was a diverse mix of people who professed to “like coffee and socializing.” And today, I was on a roll. Today, despite being an introvert, I liked socializing.
I turned in my seat to find a high school social studies teacher. In swapping backgrounds, he was fascinated to know that I was an archaeologist. He had done an M.A. in Anthropology too. (I could feel the fairy dust still trickling down my face and my neck.) He told me he’d worked with the Archaeological Survey of Alberta and worked at Hardisty — one of the most active locations in Alberta today. (I was now vibrating in my seat. The fairy dust was making my neck itch.) He asked me my Master’s topic and I told him. (Then he started to vibrate in his seat.) But everything became surreal when he told me of his Master’s topic.
The Ghost Dance, he told me, had previously been interpreted as a means of bringing back the dead. He re-interpreted the ethnographic data and decided, instead, that the Ghost Dance was a ritual to commune with the dead. In 1890, the buffalo were disappearing, the white men were slaughtering Natives or rounding them up into Reserves. It was a time of big change for the Native Americans. Anyone witnessing big changes — whether it’s death, divorce, economic collapse, or environmental decline — always asks “why?” And usually, a higher power is consulted for an answer.
My anthropological colleague continued that, after graduation, he hitchhiked down to Wounded Knee. The place was unchanged, he said. Even a rusted cop car sat untouched.
Rusted cop car? I blinked.
There had been a skirmish in 1973 at Wounded Knee. It is a place of high tension and deep memory.
He camped out at various towns and villages around Wounded Knee, being left alone or invited in by the locals. He caught a ride with two men one day and discovered they were FBI agents. After they dropped him at a nearby town, he realized they’d been softly interrogating him — where was he from? why was he here? Apparently, tension and memory was still deep.
Down into Wyoming, then up into Alberta, and back to Ottawa, he continued to hitchhike and sleep, camped out under the stars, in a field, under the trees. It became a spiritual experience. He felt a connection to the people he met, the places he visited, the ground upon which he walked and slept. Even when he stuck out his thumb, he began feel which cars would stop and which wouldn’t. “Waiting for a car for eight hours can become a transcendental experience,” he said.
I sat in awe, listening, as fairy dust settled in my shoes.
Traveling, socializing, having coffee can be more than just that. It can be a spiritual experience full of connection. I try to bring in this experience when I travel, socialize, or even have coffee. Sometimes I’m successful (like this day), other times not so much. But the days on which I succeed can be transcendental, and they’ll keep me aglow, smiling, and paying it forward for days afterwards. Isn’t this a lovely reason to perform Random Acts of Kindness and put away your device and talk to someone?