My thoughts, at 12.40 today.
I was at the Chinese Embassy in Dublin to apply for a visa for my speaking trip to Shanghai in early December. I’d been at the embassy yesterday as well but one of my documents wasn’t accepted, hence my return trip.
I joined the queue and waited my turn. The very elderly gentleman at the head of the queue had a problem. He had completed an old version of the application form which, the young embassy lady explained, she couldn’t accept. “You just need to take the information from one and write it on the other“, she explained gently.
“I’ll come back another day” he sighed dejectedly as he turned to leave, shuffling slowly past the queue.
“Why don’t you sit down there and transcribe it?” I suggested as he passed “You’ll have it done in ten minutes.”
“It’s not that simple at my age, son” he replied. “Between my bad eyesight and my shaky hand, it would take me a day to write that out. Never mind,” he sighed, “I’ll go home and get my friend to do it for me.” World-weary, resigned, he turned to leave.
I could feel his pain. A bus home. Come back tomorrow. Such hassle. Maybe I could help him. But I had an important meeting after this and lots to do today. Always busy. And yet….
In that moment, I remembered a TEDx talk by the excellent Mark Kelly, in which he explains his view that the real value of a random act of kindness is not in what it does for the recipient, but in how it makes the givers – the doers – feel about themselves. We feel great, human, connected, our best selves.
Old guy’s pain versus my work pressure. Selfish or selfless? Damn.
“I’ll write it out for you as soon as I’m finished here” I heard myself saying.
Surprised and delighted, he sat down. I joined him 30 minutes later, transcribed the form, and brought him back to the window. He thanked me (by the way, expressing his surprise that I work at the Chinese embassy “because everyone else here looks ….. Chinese“.)
I felt great as I hurried to my car, parked some distance away. Mark was right, I thought. I really DID feel good about myself. I’d be exaggerating if I told you that I skipped to my car, parked some distance away, but I certainly had a pep in my step. Life was good!
As I turned into the road where I’d parked my car, a clampers’ van drove past me.
“They’ve just gone and ruined some poor motorist’s ” I thought.
THAT’S MY CAR! CLAMPED!
“That can’t be right – I paid for an hour and I was only gone for ……….. damn. I was gone for about 90 minutes. Helping that old guy.”
That’s when the bad thoughts about Mark hit me, cursing him to attempt anatomically impossible feats with his ‘do-good’ philosophy and his karma guff. And it was particularly annoying because I’d been part of another of Mark’s events last night – the What I Know Inspire Series – featuring some incredibly inspiring speakers including Pat Slattery and Shane Craddock, and I’d come away so inspired, so positive. And now this.
I called the ransom line and paid them their eighty pieces of silver. By credit card. Then I sat on a wall to wait. Thinking.
And that’s when it came to me. To the extent that I’d given it any consideration, I’d always thought that ‘karma’ means that the universe rewards you with good or bad fortune in direct proportion to how you treat others. In fact, I realise, ‘karma’ means simply that you get what you deserve.
Was the universe taking me down a notch for being so bloody pleased for making a tiny sacrifice to help a stranger? To teach me modesty? Humility? Or, as I suspect, was this just an example of the universal truth that ‘shit happens’?
Karma or coincidence, it didn’t matter anymore. Instantly, all was right in my world again.
As the clampers drove away to carry out their next heist, I my newly-paroled car and called Mark. I recounted the story of my good deed, inspired by his TEDx talk and last night’s inspirational events. Mark was pleased, happy to have made a difference.
Having cued it up for Mark as a sort of – “Chicken-Soup-for-the-Visa-Seeker’s-Soul” tale of ‘kind man does good deed for old guy’, I cried tears of laughter – genuinely – when I got to telling him about my reaction to the clamping, and in particular, my ‘shove it’ thoughts.
I’m laughing again as I write this.
Separately, with Christmas gifts in mind, I have just checked out Peter Kay tickets on Seatwave – a ‘hard-to-get tickets’ site or an officially-sanctioned scalping site – take your pick. Two tickets with face value of €70 each can be bought for his February 2019 show for only ….. €705.98. Now that is “having a laugh”. Suddenly, compared to the scalpers, the clampers seem positively good value at only €80 for the laughter they unwittingly brought into my day. A good deed, a good day, and a good laugh. All for only €80 – and they didn’t make me wait 15 months for it either!
Namaste. Boomshanka. You see? It is contagious!