Take a moment and think about the last line you stood in. Not a quick line, but a line with a ton of people and inconvenience. A line that kept you from something important, something you wanted. Maybe it was the grocery store or traffic on the way home, it doesn’t matter where it was, just that it was in your way.
What did you do? Did you swear and hit the steering wheel in disgust? Did you mutter in your mind, or under your breath, cruel thoughts about the strangers in front of you who so clearly aimed to take your time? Did you form the stoic mask of patience while rage boiled inside?
Or were you kind?
Michelle Paradis attended a workshop on finding your authentic voice this summer and reached out to connect with me on LinkedIn. I didn’t reply to her until September, but I am glad I did. I find the world full of these moments where we miss someone by just a hair simply because it was not our time to meet them, not our time for the wisdom they can share with us.
There is a force that surrounds Michelle, something wondrous, some wind that doesn’t toss her hair to its wild state, but one that springs forth from those dark locks into the world. She is passion and fire, but not the flame that burns bright for a moment and then fades just as quickly. Michelle is the fire that warms, inspires, and makes you feel welcome. She is a spirit free, a coach, a teacher, and a student among far too many titles for me to share, and none of which would do her full justice,
We take a moment to share some time from life with one another, on the boardwalk by Shem Creek, with the afternoon sun bright and the blue skies clear. Michelle shares her story with me. I share mine with her. We talk of roads, of passion, of love and loss, of walking your road after learning hard lessons. She tells me of her time as a teacher, of her passion for her students and their futures.
It makes me smile. I remember teachers, and one principal, in my life like Michelle. They got me excited, gave me a passion for knowledge. They saved me from mistakes, caught me when I fell, and kept me from a road of self-destruction. A great teacher can save a life. I’ve known a few. Walking next to Michelle, it is clear I know one more now.
The passion that surrounds Michelle, that reflects itself in her stories and echoes in her voice, is something you can almost reach out and touch. It’s that warmth you wish to wrap yourself in and never let go of. For more than a moment, I envy her students. As our time moves ever onward, I ask Michelle what piece of wisdom, what singular bit from her life, would she want to share with the world.
Michelle shares her wisdom with me.
“Just be kind.”
She tells me that you never know someone else’s story, never know where they have been, what they have been through. Pain is relative, and we have all lived through those things that hurt us the most. You don’t know what that is, and your kindness can change everything. Kindness is what made Michelle fall in love with Charleston. Kindness is what saved my life on more than one occasion.
We spend a few more moments in the sun by Shem Creek, a few more moments in the waning afternoon with the warmth of that same sun and the breeze from the harbor. We are kind to one another, sharing stories, seeking first to understand, and taking a few moments of this one crazy life together.
As I cross the bridge to my home, I find myself wondering about the world. I wonder about the kind of place it would be if we all remembered Michelle’s wisdom, the core of that simple statement, the belief that kindness changes everything. I think about the last line I was in, about the thoughts that crossed through my mind, about how unkind I can be, whether someone is looking or not. I cross the water and make a decision, to be more kind, to love people just a bit more.
Think about that line. Were you kind? Could you still be?