A single kindness gets lonely
December 16, 1998
I remember the day Paul lost his memory. His memory was no longer in his head, you see. It’s a Casio 128 and his whole life was in it. He left it on the plane from Toronto to Vancouver.
I’ve never seen Paul so mad at himself. He was madder than the time he crushed his memory into the skating rink boards while playing crack the whip with the kids, and madder yet then the time he leaned over the toilet at work and it swan dived into the bowl.
He blankly said, “Well I guess I’ll never see -that- again,” and become very morose. A couple of hours after we got to my parents’ place in Victoria, the phone rang. My mother was outside and my father, who associated ringing telephones with drunken clients importuning him for assistance, refused to answer. Paul picked it up.
“Is Paul Caspell there?” asked a pleasant female voice.
“Speaking!” said Paul, really surprised. Normally when you pick up your mother-in-common-law’s phone, you don’t expect to be asked for by name.
“I’ve got your electronic organizer!” she said.
One of the cabin crew had found it and looked in it until she came up with a BC phone number. It was by the sweetest chance that Paul happened to answer the phone.
It came on the next flight to Victoria from Vancouver – Paul was thrilled, and touched.
So it was no surprise what Paul did a few months later, when he found a daybook on an airplane, packed with so many names and addresses that the owner had started writing in the margins. As soon as he saw it was a Vancouver address, Paul jumped in the car and drove it to the guy. I accompanied him to see how the drama played out.
After loudly and repeatedly expressing his thanks, the gentleman told us that he was a committee chair, and a prof and an activist, and his whole life was in that book. He had been contemplating recovering the information with something approaching despair. He promised two things, and I know he did one because Paul got a sensational letter praising his customer service skills at work; the other was to promise that he’d photocopy his address book and put it somewhere safe first thing after he got into his office.
So this is a reminder – back up your data. It doesn’t matter if it’s on paper, a hard disk or chiselled into a rock. Make another copy and put it someplace safe. As soon as I got home that night I sent my mother all my friends’ email addresses as well as my address book.
It’s important to remember that a single kindness rapidly gets lonely. That single act of being present and taking care will ripple out and have effects you can’t even contemplate. When the world is kind to you it’s because the laws of cause and effect still rule.
I remember one other act of kindness of Paul’s. We were driving up University just south of Bloor in Toronto and a stunning woman was stuck in traffic, four way flashers blazing, next to an old diesel Mercedes-Benz. She looked quite distraught.
“My old car!” Paul said, because it was the exact same year and model as one of his first cars. “I know what’s wrong,” and in about as much time as it takes to describe it, pulled in front of her, leaped out of the car, adjusted something inside the car, and got it running again. I have taken a lot of pleasure over the years thinking of the story this woman must have told her family over supper that night.
We try to look after each other as a family, and try to emphasize kindness. When we find things we return them, if there’s an address and a name. Once I lost a sheaf of writing on the Royal York bus and some woman, who is an angel in human form, spent two bucks on postage getting it back to me. I thank her, and I thank everybody who ever let me in, comforted my kids when I couldn’t be there, put a happy nothing day gift on my desk, or sent me an email from a friend of a friend.
Sometimes I think that email inspired belly laugh, in the middle of a brutal working day, is a random act of kindness – travelling from someone I will never meet, outbound at the speed of light. Be randomly kind today!