Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Day 2: The story of the green windbreaker

That moment when you get out of your van in the parking lot next to the river, next to the woods, and you realize it's about 15 degrees cooler there than it was on your front porch in the city. Your front porch where you stood with your keys in your hand and the dog on the leash and debated whether to unlock the doors and go back in for a hoodie. And then decided nah. The weatherman was calling for temperatures in the upper 70's on this rare second day of November. Besides you'll be hiking ......

"Damn! It's way colder out here than it was at home," I said as my friend Cassandra climbed out of her car on the other side of the grassy strip that ran down the middle of the parking lot.

"It is. It must be around 50," she replied as she opened the door, reached in the back of her car and pulled out a hoodie.

I hit the button for the slider on my van and pulled out my dog. He leaped around like a poodle a tenth his size. "Heel, Crow! Stop being such an asshole." I hit the locks and closed my van up.

"Don't you have a jacket, honey?" Cassandra asked as she zipped her hoodie. She's the kind of person who can get away with calling people "honey."

"Oh, I have one," I said, as I stood there shivering in my t-shirt and capris. "It's pink and a size 5 though. I'll warm up once we get moving. I'll have to, right?"

I noticed the young man in the car next to Cassandra pick up a green jacket from the front seat of his car. He'd been there when I pulled up. I assumed he was going to get out and hike too, and had been smart enough to bring a jacket.

"I really wish you had a sweatshirt, honey. You're going to freeze." Cassandra clipped the leash on her little dog, Missy. Little compared to my 90-pound poodle, Crow, I mean.

"There's nothing I can do about it now. Let's just get going. I'll be fine." Crow hit the end of the leash with all his weight as he tried to greet Missy, who doesn't really like him much. "Crow! We just got here. Stop being an asshole. Heel!"

I noticed the young man getting out of his car as we turned toward the river and the trail. He didn't look threatening at all, but if you're a woman with any experience at all, you don't take your attention completely off any strange man, especially in an isolated area.

"Excuse me!" he said. We turned. He held out the green jacket. "I have this windbreaker. Would you like to borrow it?"

We stared at him for a beat. "We're going to hike about 3 miles," I said. "Won't you be gone when we get back?"

"I'm going to be here a while," he said. "I don't have to be at work for at least an hour and a half. This is a nice place to kill time." He walked over and held out the jacket. It was a fleece-lined windbreaker at that.

I took it. "Thanks. This will make my hike a lot warmer," I said. I put it on and it fit.

"No problem," he said, and walked back to his car.

So we hiked, and I was perfectly comfortable until about halfway back when I got too warm and tied the jacket around my waist. The young man was still there when we got back. He got out of his car, and I returned his jacket and thanked him. Shortly after, he left. For work, I assume. I hope he wasn't late.

That was it. An act of kindness that cost him nothing, but made my morning ever so much nicer.

A lot of us are overwhelmed by the meanness this political season has brought out in some people. I'm not going to elaborate on that. Read your Facebook feed. This random act of kindness, to use a trite phrase, of a person who has nothing at all to gain from loaning his jacket to a stranger, reminded me how even the smallest of such acts can make a difference that reverberates through the recipient's day. Because I did feel a sense of warmth and connection the rest of the day -- even now -- every time I remembered that stranger and his bright green windbreaker.

And I'm reminded that I can look harder for opportunities to do the same, even though I may never realize the effect I might have on a stranger's day. And I can also remember to appreciate those small kindnesses as well. Those times when my hands are full and someone holds a door. Or when someone with a full cart lets me go ahead in the grocery line with my 3 items. I could list the possibilities all night, but I'm sure you have some of your own.

When have you been surprised by a small, yet significant to you, act of kindness? Or when have you performed one? I need some positive stories right now, don't you? Tell me your green windbreaker stories, so we can remember that world really isn't such a nasty place after all.

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