The Gaze of Kindness
by Amy Hendricks
What makes someone kind? Do they wear fuzzy sweaters and bake chocolate chip cookies all year round? Do they help you move a king-size mattress up to your fifth floor apartment and emerge with a smile on their face? Do they laugh at your stupid jokes at parties? Sure, these things show kindness, but what makes a person really kind?
I’ve been told God is kind, that his kindness is everlasting and is shown to all people. But perhaps that’s just hearsay or a pat answer to hush the negativity of the world. Sometimes, life requires more out of us than we can give, and we’re left asking, “where is the kindness?”
On May 10, 2011, I was hit and run over by a pick-up truck. Yep, this wasn’t just a bad day where I felt like I was hit by a truck. No, I was actually hit. I was on my way to work and, awaiting the “Walk” signal at the intersection of Riverside and Division, I remember taking a deep breath and thinking to myself, “It’s a great day.” The white lit stick figure appeared, and I began to cross the street.
I didn’t actually see the truck coming. I felt it. The heat of the front grill singed my left cheek, the bumper hit my left hip, and before I knew it, I was flying 20 feet in the air. While in actuality all of this happened in a matter of seconds, from my perspective every second bulged with thousands of movements, actions, and thoughts- like a sick, choreographed dance. The finale of the event happened quickly: Ladies and Gentleman- The final act- Starring Dodge Ram truck tire, and yours truly as the speedbump. Thump-thump. The truck skidded to a stop. A flurry of Oh Shits, sirens, police reports, ER imaging, and days in the hospital followed.
Three years later, I’m here. On the outside, I look healthy and talk normally. On the inside, broken- en route to healing- but broken. The accident left me with scars, broken bones, pain, and, most disturbingly, PTSD. The sound of trucks accelerating, the sight of crosswalks, the visual of oncoming traffic, the heat of the hood of a car- all of these serve as anchors that tether me to the undeniable truth- that this terrible, horrific thing was not a dream, or even a nightmare, but happened and happened to me. I am haunted by the ghosts of my own story.
So, what does all this have to do with kindness, and, most of all, God’s kindness? Mentally and emotionally, I return to the scene daily. I know every patch of concrete, every word exchanged, every sound. Just as the event carried me that day, I carry the event with me- an awkward piece of luggage I tote around. I find myself looking around at the people at the scene, still frames in my memory. I see mostly nearby drivers, a few construction cones, a piece of discarded gum.
But one figure stands out- a man on the sidewalk, hands in pocket, looking with deep concern and distress at each step of the event. He doesn’t run to the rescue, try to fix me, but stands there, tears in his eyes. In our culture, hands in pockets can communicate lots of things- awkwardness, bashfulness, or even nervousness. But for some reason, the fact that he stands there with his hands in his pockets doesn’t worry me. I am mesmerized by his posture. It’s a posture that surrenders me to the events at hand, and yet, as he gazes into my eyes, yields to horror of that day with the rawest of emotions: fear. I see him there as he enters into the chaos and the flurry. He is worried as I am worried, flattened as I am flattened. This figure is my kindness, and, if I may have such a wild-haired idea, is God- a figure that entered into the mayhem that day.
And, three years down the road, I have found that God continues to offer me this same mysterious kindness. I work at a thrift store, and the chaos, though different, lives on. I see a colorful bunch of people come into our store every day- homeless, drunk, wealthy, academic- you name it! Imagine a cesspool of cigarette smoke, cool clothes, and fake jewels. Some of our customers are what society would label “crazy”- they might talk to themselves, have bizarre twitches, or stink. But, in all their baggage, I see a part of me in them- maybe fear, loss, anger. Eddie confesses his love for strawberry ice cream for the fourth time, Mariam covers her bald head after having chemo and says she’s been on vacation, Tim hacks hard after his third pack of the day.
I see them like still frames in my memory- us humans together in all of our chaos and PTSD and shit. But, as we pass kindness to each other, we dole out waterwings- looks of concern, a listening ear, a knowing glance- that help us float, however awkwardly, through the muck and mire of life. I was hit and run over by a truck, and my customers, my friends, have been run over by addiction, cancer, or grief. My story, a tragedy, also tells the story of kindness, and has taught me to watch people, put my hands in my pockets, and gaze into the beautiful, chaotic face of humanity.
Amy Hendricks graduated from Whitworth University with a B.A. in Sociology in 2008. She currently runs a non-profit in Spokane with her husband, Brent, called Global Neighborhood, which provides development opportunities for former-refugees. Along with the three businesses Global Neighborhood operates, Global Neighborhood Thrift, GN Clean, and Blue Button, Amy delights in organic gardening, walking through the forest, and going on adventures with her dog, Henry.
Image is from here.