Kindness

I was on the wonderfully Hindu island of Bali a few months ago, located right in the middle of Indonesia, the most populated Muslim country on the planet. Enjoying a day free of obligations, I was out walking the streets, waiting for something amazing to happen.

And then it did.

I happened upon an ice cream shop maybe twenty steps ahead. (That’s not the amazing part.) It was run by a young man and his fiancé. I asked for a strawberry milkshake and told them I would be their most dependable customer for the next week. That was not a lie—I showed up faithfully, twice daily, for my sugar fix. However, more than that, I showed up to continue learning from this incredibly kind young couple.

They have little money to their name, yet they treated me to a local dinner one evening. They have only a small flat, yet they invited me over to share in the girl’s birthday festivities, complete with a meal and many cakes. They have but a single scooter, yet they allowed me to use it numerous times.

And on top of all of that, they started serving me free ice cream after only the third day.

When I left their fine town, I gave them all of the local currency I had left. “Call it a birthday present from your good friend in Canada,” I said. But it was nothing. When the conversion is 10,000 rupiahs to a single dollar, what I gave was nothing.

Just a few months earlier, I was living in the southernmost province of the Democratic Republic of Congo, whose citizens are among the poorest on Earth. One of my good friends, a local man who worked for one of the mining companies in the area, made just enough money to stay alive. That never stopped him from treating me to lunch, though. Or covering our taxis. Or arranging for us to visit neighboring villages for traditional meals.

I attempted to pay back his kindness by speaking at a few of the local English clubs where he volunteered. I provided his beers whenever we went out, but in a place where beer costs less than the barley used to produce it, that doesn’t amount to any great feat.

Just a short while before that, I found myself in La Paz, the capital of Bolivia. The free-spirited lady I lived with accepted me into both her home and family without question. I was introduced to parents, to cousins, to maids, to friends. No matter how early I attempted to rise, she would beat me to the kitchen to prepare breakfast. No matter how many places we visited, she refused to let me put petrol in her car.

“I came into this world with empty pockets, and I will leave with empty pockets.”

That’s what she told me. As if I, a spoiled middle-class kid, deserved to be on the receiving end of that kind of wisdom. That kindness.

As I departed, I placed a handwritten note neatly beneath her pillow. A note with a message of sincere gratitude contained within. It wasn’t much, but it was the most heartfelt gift I was able to offer at the time.

I’ll see each of these people again. Very soon. And when I do, I will bless them with the very lessons they taught me.

Fast cars. Big houses. Silk suits. Gold watches. Rubbish.

Kindness. We should invest in an idea like that.