Back when I was in university, I was travelling home one weekend from Ottawa to Toronto. I suspect my parents paid for that particular trip, because I was on a plane. Seated a few rows behind me was a group of boys conversing rapidly—and loudly—in French. Despite a smattering of the language, I don’t truly speak French, so I wasn’t much listening to them.
But I did take notice when, as we were lining up in the aisle to deplane, one of the boys smiled at me and handed me a folded up napkin.
I was young. I was used to being hit on. I smiled in my most non-committal way, took the napkin, and walked off. I figured I’d find his phone number written on it. In truth, I almost tossed it away without unfolding it. But as I strode towards the exit, I indulged my curiosity. And found myself speechless.
During the course of our very short flight, the boy behind me had taken the time to draw me a picture (shown on right) on what I assume was the only paper he had—an airplane napkin. Grass and sky, water and tree, red flowers all around. And at the bottom, it read: “Vous êtes vraiment belles”—which translates as: you are truly beautiful. No number. No name. I spent some time looking for him to thank him, but he was gone.
A lasting legacy
That was almost 30 years ago, but I remember it like yesterday. I kept his picture and I continue to hold his sentiment close to my heart. Why? Because honest, unstinting kindness from strangers who ask nothing in return can quite literally leave a lifelong legacy.
It was a lesson I took to heart—and that I try to practice to this day. I compliment strangers on their clothes, their hair, their smile, their style. I buy coffee for the person standing behind me in line. I leave unsigned notes on windshields, in coat pockets, and inside the lockers at yoga that say “Hope you have a happy day.”
I say good morning to the people I pass on the street and smile.
Not everyone is touched. Some people pass me by with a blank expression. Some people toss out my little notes. Some people even sneer. (Although, I gotta say, no one has ever turned down a free coffee ☺).
But you know what I’ve discovered? It’s not about them. It’s about my commitment to inject a tiny bit of sunshine into the world. Those who are worried about being burned get to stay in the shade.
Pay it forward
On the plus side, there are tons of others who are delighted to be noticed, even in passing. I’ve gotten earnest thanks and moving gratitude. From the woman who held eye contact with me in a Starbucks in an honest tribute. From the boy who promised to pay it forward when I bought him headphones on a plane.
From a man at Grand Central Station who smiled so radiantly it almost stopped my heart.
Our world can so often seem cold. When we’re bundled up and daydreaming, turning inward and brooding, avoiding connection at all cost; those moments can make us feel like we’re all alone. But there’s a thread that travels through us all, that connects us in unfathomable ways.
Noticing each other’s beauty sends a hum along that thread, one that resonates from one heart to the next, and that can echo for years. So be kind to strangers, whenever you can. It may spark a spiral of kindness that lasts a lifetime.
About Aviva Rabinovici
In the corporate world, my bio generally underscores my extensive business experience. After earning a law degree, I started up my own company called AR Communications Inc., which is now one of North America’s leading copywriting boutiques. I’m proud of these achievements, but they don’t tell the story of what’s closest to my heart. What truly makes me shine is having nurtured a passionate, loving marriage for almost 25 years; raising three phenomenal children who light up my life; sustaining a 20+ year yoga practice; and most recently co-founding Conscious and Carefree—a blog dedicated to exploring how to live life fully in joy. You can find us at www.bcarefree.com, like us on Facebook, and follow us on Twitter.