During my first year of college I remember meeting someone at a party, an older guy, taller than me, frizzy-haired, something of a Deadhead, whose name escapes me. I only vaguely remember the details of that meeting – my strongest impression is still just a feeling of overwhelming anxiety and paralysis, partly because of the party itself, partly because of the enormity of being in college.
What I remember more clearly is walking to class (or maybe from class) a couple of days later, seeing this guy sitting among a mob of other people, socializing and whatnot, hearing him say “hey Mike,” and hesitantly approaching him. He asked how I was doing; I mumbled something about being tense and weird at parties. He then said something like “That’s okay, it just takes you longer to relax than some people. You’ll be fine.” I might have said thanks, and I might have just nodded or something similar. Then I continued on my way.
I was frankly shocked that he’d remembered me at all, because at the time, my conviction that there was no reason for anyone to do so was bone-deep. I don’t want to make the interaction sound bigger than it was. We didn’t become friends. In fact, I don’t recall ever talking with him again. It was a very casual, even-keeled act, one that he may have considered a normal moment of engagement with the world at large.
I considered it an act of kindness, however – a small one, true, but a real one, and I’ve never forgotten it. It continues to hold meaning for me, and I somehow take heart in the knowledge that even the smallest acts of kindness can stay with a person for a long, long time.