Kindness Unexpected

What a real act of kindness looks like

Toddler eating a mango
Andres eating a mango from the backyard

Here’s a message* I received back in January which gave me a sense of hope for the year that was starting :

Hello Mrs. Daniella, how are you. You probably don’t remember me, it’s been 22 years since I last saw you and still you are always present in my life. You are one of the people who made a strong mark in my life because of how kind you were to me during the time I worked for you, your children Diego and Andres were very affectionate towards me and I truly grew very very fond of them. I hope that if you ever read this message, you will remember that Carmen, the girl who worked for you in Prados del Este before you left for the United States, always thinks of you and your family. And I will always hold you dear even if I never see you again. Much happiness and many blessings to your family.

I didn’t know it then, but this brief message is one of the happiest and most meaningful experiences I’ve had this year.

It reminded me of two things:

1. That it’s stupid to obsess on what gets counted.

2. That being an “overall kind” person, while important, is not the same as engaging in an “act of kindness”.

What Counts Most?

In this age of explosive data collection and availability, we take what gets counted and measured to be what matters most — you know, things like engagement, likes, followers, unique visits and such. It usually isn’t of course, as this unexpected message would highlight for me.

I was late to jump on the social media bandwagon and only joined in 2018 after I started a personal blog and was told social media was the way to go to get my writing out there.

I quickly got the hang of it and was posting regularly on Facebook and Instagram, always focused on followers, reads, views and all those figures we are maniacally driven to care about. The numbers and counts are specific and make it easy for us to obsessively track them and compare ourselves to others.

And yet, the most worthwhile return social media brought me this year was that Facebook message from Carmen. It’s what has counted the most.

A True Act of Kindness

But this story is about much more than social media. It’s about true kindness, and how I actually did nothing to deserve Carmen’s moving note.

Carmen was our maid/ kids’ nanny for a couple of years when Andres and Diego were two and four, before we immigrated to the United States from Venezuela. Carmen was 20, and I, 29. She came from Portuguesa, an agricultural state in the Venezuelan plains region, while I was a spoiled city girl who’d never faced any real money worries.

I was in a position to do something for Carmen and I didn’t. I could’ve gotten to know more about her goals and dreams, deliberately guided her or even helped her financially. After all, I had so many advantages, including being ten years older and having grown up in the capital surrounded by family and friends who went on to professional schools after high school instead of cleaning houses and taking care of other people’s children.

Still, all I did was to be an overall kind person, which requires no real effort. Carmen, on the other hand, went out of her way to contact me 22 years later. Hers was a thoughtful act of kindness that filled me with delight.

When I replied to Carmen’s message and inquired further into her life, here’s some of what she wrote:

Well, as it happens, after working for you, I stayed in Caracas for two years and then went back to Portuguesa, resumed my studies and went to University and got a degree as a Systems Engineer. I got married and have two children, a boy and a girl, and two young grandchildren. I’m currently in Chile, I’ve been here for two years, I had to emigrate due to the current situation in Venezuela. It has gone well for me here, thanks to God, though Covid has impacted the economy. But I give God thanks that we have work and good health…”

I was blown away by Carmen’s humility and in awe of her successes. Truly, it’s hard to exaggerate how much her messages delighted and illuminated me.

And this, dear reader, is the final takeaway: You can never know the extent to which your actions, even if they feel small, might affect others.

*I’ve translated from the original Spanish and used punctuation and grammar equivalent to those in the original messages. Carmen gave me permission to tell this story and to include her words.

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