Kindness is less expensive than you think

I was sitting at a sidewalk cafe table when I noticed a praying mantis slowly crawling on the arm of the plastic chair next to me.

praying mantis

A bug in Israel

I was sitting there because I had nothing to do but kill time  — 15 minutes to kill — until my scheduled driving test in downtown Haifa.

It would be, in fact, my second driving test in as many weeks. I failed the first one.

Since waking up with a startle at 4:30 am, I had been psyching myself up for the test. Trying to remind myself that the test was not that big of a deal; that passing or failing wasn’t life or death. I told myself I’m a good and safe driver, but (as I learned last time) there is only so much I can be prepared for such a test.

As in life, sometimes a street cleaner in an orange vest decides to walk backwards into traffic and you have to make a split second decision, and hope for the least messy result….and, in the case of a driving test, the kindness of the instructor.

Sitting in that cafe chair with 15 minutes to go and nothing else to do, I noticed the praying mantis. I thought to myself, “That guy is lucky I sat next to him and not some 6 year old serial-killer-to-be who would have enjoyed pulling off his skinny little legs one by one.”

I examined the creature closely. How was he so calm? How could he possibly just meander along like that without worry? Did he sense the presence of the fat hairy guy standing next to him drinking an espresso? Was he worried at all that the guy would sit down and rest his heavy arm on top of him?

In fact, I could very easily smush that bug myself, I thought. Or at least swat him away, off the chair, simply because I don’t like bugs.

Instead, I’m observing him, I thought. Acknowledging him. Letting him be.

Lucky him. I kinda wish I were that praying mantis right now.

Or, at least, I wish for the same kind of luck.

I need to be let alone today.

I need a lucky break.

I need the simple kindness of a stranger.

Then it hit me.

Sometimes, just letting someone — or something — be is an act of kindness.

To be kind doesn’t require a lot of time or money. Nor does it require great courage or forethought.

Sometimes, you just need to let someone be.

Leave a bug alone.

Allow someone a mistake (without reprimanding her for it)

Give someone a break (when she doesn’t necessarily deserve it)

Back off  someone when you could just as easily crush her

(Pass her when you could just as easily fail her).

Sometimes (just as our listening is sometimes a bigger gift than our speaking)our inaction is a greater kindness than our action.

Like A Kid Again

There are times when living as an immigrant in a non-English speaking country makes you feel and act like a child:

For instance:

You get lost. FREAK OUT! Where’s my mommy?

You can’t find what you need when you need it at the pharmacy. FREAK OUT! Where’s my mommy?

You don’t get what you need when you need it at the bank/post office/government agency. FREAK OUT! Where’s my mommy?

Cry hysterically.

Kick. Scream. Pound fists on floor.

Run out of steam. Leave dejected.

Yes, being a new immigrant is exhausting.

A lot like childhood, but with less opportunities for naps.

But nothing makes you feel like a child more than the process of acquiring a new language while living in a foreign country.

In the beginning, you’re like a baby …you understand almost nothing.  But people around you think you’re cute, so they speak slowly to you or patiently use hand signals.

After a while of living in the foreign country,  you start to adjust and understand, but you’re still completely incapable of communicating.

Then, slowly slowly, you can communicate … in baby talk. Ah, sweet release as you realize you can get your point across … sorta.

Then, at some point you start noticing and comprehending words around you — on signs, on the front covers of magazines, on the sides of trucks.

And without realizing it, you’ve grown up.

You’ve become a big girl. You can read. You get things. You’re in on the joke.

I experienced one of these exhilarating awakenings yesterday when I was driving to work.

I saw a bus in front of me.

express

And I slowly read the sign.

I knew the first word was Nativ. It was a word I recognized. And I knew the second word didn’t look like a regular Hebrew word, but I didn’t know what it was. So I sounded the letters out.

Just as if I was a first grader again. Syllable by syllable.

Using the only method I knew how to attempt comprehension.

I wasn’t panicked or rushed. So I could be calm and just explore the letters and the sounds with my tongue.

I felt my head move side to side as my brain worked through the problem.

What is it?

I was inside myself and outside myself at the same time. Participant and observer.

I reminded myself of my 6 year old son.

I imagine, deep inside, I reminded myself of me.

6 year old me.

Ek

Eks

Ekspars

Express

EXPRESS!

EXPRESS!!!

I figured it out!

I was alone in the car so there was no one to share my excitement with.

And yet, I could see my face.

I knew my face must have looked as accomplished as my son’s when he learns a new word. It’s a look I’m familiar with lately. It’s the look of success he beams after he reads by himself a Level 2 book in English.

He’s good with the 4- and 5-letter words. But struggles when the words have multiple syllables.

He stumbles, frustrated.

But then he stops. Breathes.

And slowly slowly, he tries to read the unrecognizable new word:

Di

Disc

Discov

Discovery

DISCOVERY!

And this is what being an immigrant is like in a non-English speaking country when you’re not lost, not seeking a product in a pharmacy or in desperate need of a document from a government agent.

When you’re not feeling out-of-control, you can tap into that spirit — the good part about being a kid.

Discovery.

Delight.

Self-love.

Joy.

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