On Friday, after work, we went with a friend for a cup of tea. This tea shop is a particular favourite and I feel oddly like it's 'my place'. I forget of course that others will feel the same. As I was looking over the selection of teas, an elderly woman came over and suggested to me that I try the 'Blue Mango' tea. She said that she loves that tea and thought it would be wonderfully appropriate for a Friday afternoon. I had strongly considered trying the tea and, with her encouragement, decided to go ahead and order it. She then brought us over several of the various 'smellers' for us to sample. These are little metal boxes with a little of the tea inside, you can smell the aroma of the leaves and get an idea of the taste that awaits after brewing.
She lingered with us, joking several times that she did not work in the store. We learned of her family's love for tea, of the three courses that she'd taken on tea, of the conversations that she'd had about tea with the store owner. She left us alone for a few minutes and, just as we were about to have our tea, she came back over with some napkins saying that her mother always insisted on napkins. Then, again, she joked about not working in the store.
As the three of us chatted, I noticed her sitting alone and quietly off in the back corner of the store. She slowly sipped her tea. She seemed both alone and lonely. I told myself to be careful of that assumption, that others, like I do sometimes, like to be alone. I also told myself that it's easy for people to misread the emotions of another. My face, at rest, looks angry, a fact that has given me problems over the years. I decided that I wanted to do something to acknowledge the interest she showed in exploring tea with us, her helpful suggestions and to let her know that she was appreciated.
Then a battle began in me. If we buy her cup of tea will she see it as charity rather than as a thank you? Will it suggest to her that we were wanting to pursue a friendship? Will she be offended? Will she be pleased? There was such a turmoil in my heart.
I'm telling you this, after much thought because I didn't want this to appear like a 'Dave did something nice, isn't he so special' post, but because I was troubled by the fact that I struggled to make a decision about being kind to someone, just doing something nice spontaneously. Yet, I can make the decision to be unkind in an instant. I can quickly decide that someone needs to be told off, that another driver needs to have a single finger communication, that a sarcastic word is called for. Oh, yes, anger makes decisions easily. Here I was struggling to decide if I should do something nice, I worried about the consequences of doing something nice! What's wrong with me? Shouldn't niceness just be a reflex? Shouldn't angry words and nasty interactions be thought out, consequences weighed? Not in my head.
So, when we paid for our own, we included her tea in the payment. The clerk, one of the shyest men in the world, smiled at the request. He'd never say anything but he nodded approval. Then, suddenly, I wanted to get out of there before she found out. I didn't want to know how the story ended. But, what with having to get a scooter and a wheelchair out of a smallish space, speed wasn't an option.
On her way out she stopped and thanked us for the tea.
I didn't feel good, I felt relieved.
Maybe there is so little kindness in the world because we overthink simple acts of generosity. Maybe there's so much meanness in the world because we underthink impulsive acts of anger.
I don't know, but, I do know - she did enjoy her tea. She said so. I believe her.