Monday, October 11, 2010

A Note Through The Door

Our apartment building has one major design flaw. The stairwells at each end of the hallway descend, not to the lobby, but directly outside. The problem is that the doors open out but do not open in. There are no door handles on the outside. This means that people on the lower floors cannot choose to take the stairs up a flight or two to their apartments, they have to take the elevator. None of this ever entered my mind because, in my wheelchair (power or manual), the elevator is my only option.

The other day we got on the elevator with a pretty young University student who lives in the building. I know her character to be friendly so I took a moment to turn my chair around and back into the elevator. This takes a few seconds more than driving straight in, which I normally do because waiting a few seconds for me to turn and back in upsets most residents in the building. They live important lives where seconds really matter. I trusted my sense of her character to be OK with me getting in the way I prefer to get in.

She and Joe stood to the side and I was comfortably parked facing the door. She then pushed 2 and Joe pushed 5. Immediately she began to apologize for only riding one floor, she was worried about having to get me to pull out so she could get out of the elevator. We told her it was no concern to either of us. When we stopped on the second floor I pulled out of the elevator and she got off, again apologizing.

Forgetting myself, I reached out and touched her arm. She stopped, startled at the touch. I said, 'You reacted with kindness and patience when I took the time to back into the elevator. I appreciate the opportunity to react with kindness and patience when you needed to get off the elevator. We have thousands of decisions like these each day, every time we decide on kindness, I believe the world is changed. It becomes, on the whole, a nicer, gentler, place.' She smiled a quick smile and headed to her apartment, I backed back into the elevator car.

This morning, on rising, we found a note that had been dropped through our mail slot. Here is what it reads:

Ever since we shared a ride on the elevator, I was the woman who got off on the second floor, I've thought about what you said. Sometimes I feel like I do not have the capacity to make a difference in the world. I see greed and corruption and meanness about me and never felt I had the ability to effect any change at all. The brief conversation I had with you has challenged my belief in my own ability to make change. I admit to being uncomfortable with you both in the past. Gay people have never been part of my world, disabled people always made me uncomfortable and large people always kind of frightened me. I hate admitting all those things, but I want to be truthful. Then, when you touched me in the hallway and spoke to me about the decisions we make every day, how a moments kindness can affect the world in a small way, something happened inside me. I feel like I can bring kindness and patience to a world that needs more of each. You managed to teach me something that I believe will make a difference to the rest of my life. I want to thank you for that.

What I said, on the spur of the moment, I realized after I read her note, needs to become much more of my own way of life. I sometimes worry so much about larger social change that I forget the smaller acts of rebellion against selfishness and meanspiritedness. I can worry about the fate of others and come to not care about the feelings of neighbours. I don't want to be 'that guy'. I want to be the guy that this woman now thinks I am. Now there's a challenge.

A challenge perfect for Thanksgiving Day, wouldn't you say?


Kristin said...

Dave, in a way, finding your blog has done for me what your comment did for that women. I've learned to be more conscious of how I react to things. I've become more willing to speak up when I think someone or something is being mistreated. I've become a bit more conscious of the difference I can make.

Spinningfishwife said...

Small things doo make a difference, if only to how one thinks of oneself. Do you know the saying (for money) "Look after the pennies and the pounds will look after themselves"? It's the same with life. Look after the small day to day things and you'll have a firm footing when it comes to the bigger issues, I think.

Anonymous said...

....and we can all do a small thing! Hour after's just a small kindness, smile, letting go. Soon it becomes a habit.

painting with fire said...

It's a beautiful challenge for us all.

ivanova said...

Wow! What an amazing story. It is like a storybook angel came into this woman's life and changed her with a small incident, except that angel was a regular human Dave Hingsburger! This makes me think we can all make a difference just as we go about our business.

Jan said...

Thank you David for a wonderful reminder that we all can make this world a better place. I commend that woman for acknowleging the effect your comments had on her. By her comments you both were recipients of the gift. Thank you for your gift to us of this blog. It made my Thanksgiving morning

Brenda said...

An awesome challenge for ANY day, but especially at Thanksgiving. When I was a kid, I used to love dropping little stones into a lake, pond, puddle, etc. and watching the ripples flow outward, in a seemingly unending pattern. I like to think that this is what happens in the world when we do someone a kindness. It may be a very small thing, but the effect can reach places we never would have dreamed. Thanks for dropping the pebble, Dave. I can already see the ripples...

Colleen said...

Dear Dave:

Thanks for this post - it is perfect for Thanksgiving.

It makes me think of what Gandhi said - be the change you want to see in the world.

A short while ago you posted wondering what your legacy would be since you had no biological children. Well here's one piece of your legacy - you changed the way she thought about making change in the world - wonderful legacy!

Happy thanksgiving to you and Joe!

Clay said...

Ivanova said:
"except that angel was a regular human Dave Hingsburger!"

I'm going to disagree with that. Dave is hardly "regular", but a very effective teacher, one who is able to touch hearts. I'd say that woman changed her mind about several things, all at once.

Anne-D said...

"We have thousands of decisions like these each day, every time we decide on kindness, I believe the world is changed. It becomes, on the whole, a nicer, gentler, place"

David, thanks so much for sharing this story.

It's so easy to feel overwhelmed with all the things that come at us, and to feel that nothing that we do in the world makes much of a difference. We may show kindness to another person, only for them to misunderstand or misjudge our motives, and sometimes we may even get a hostile reaction! It's still no excuse not to do the right thing for the right reasons.

Thanks for reminding me! x

Janet C said...

Thanks for sharing this, Dave. It brought tears to my eyes. I have a hard time with the little things -- instead am always trying to do the BIG things. This opened my eyes.