Sometimes you’re in such an amazing place abound in beauty, arts, culture, and history, but you can’t enjoy what it’s ready to offer you—simply because your life is in overwhelm mode. You’re more focused on surviving than basking in the treasures of a stunning city. That was my reality during the two years I lived in Berlin.
I moved to Berlin as a 23-year old new mother. My son wasn’t even one-year-old yet. Looking back, I believe I was still a child myself. I didn’t know anyone there except my then-husband, who was a Berliner. I didn’t speak the language. My boy was still too young for me to consider going out and finding a job. I was home-bound, dependent, and introverted in a vast, foreign city that reminded me of Andersen’s Snow Queen—icy, distant and blue.
Besides, things weren’t going that well at home. I had started realizing that my husband and I were probably not the best match that would last a lifetime in spite of having our son. The differences in our approach to “doing life” were starting to dig the ground for what would later become a chasm.
It was the beginning of the ’90s. No iPhones, no iPads, no Facebook, no Skype—not even the ludicrous MySpace existed. I remember making overseas calls to my mother from a phone booth around the corner. The phone card never lasted long enough to have a hearty conversation. I could barely say hi, exchange a few words, some news, and then had to say goodbye. Sometimes my mother couldn’t help but let out a small, stifled sob before we hung up, and I found myself walking back home to our apartment in Hohenzollernring with tears rolling down my cheeks.
Looking back on my life now, in my mid-forties, I realize my personal history is woven with acts of kindness—compassion and generosity extended to me by good-hearted fellow humans. Some of them never knew how much their simple kindness, attention and care mattered. One of those people were Angela—the wife of my then-husband’s best friend.
Angela used to always check on me in Berlin and go out of her way to create opportunities for us to spend time together, finding ways to make dents in my isolated life.
She had a son the age of my boy. If the weather was good, we would take our little ones to the playground. If it was raining or snowing, we would go to Cafe Eulalia where the mothers drank coffee and worked on their craft projects while the babies played in an adjacent room under the supervision of an adult.
She also showed me around the city. Those days when I went out of my cocoon and discovered Berlin with Angela brought a fresh breeze into my life, as if the coffee-and-linden-scented air of Berlin streets had followed me home and filled my rooms. I still can’t forget that day we sat on the grass and watched artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude finish wrapping the old German Parliament building in silvery, aluminum fabric, highlighting the features of the giant, century-old structure to symbolize the new Germany.
As the tired, old Reichstag got wrapped and covered, I unfolded and unfurled, coming out of my seclusion, loneliness and foreignness through the kindness and gentle attention of someone who genuinely cared.
“Life is mostly froth and bubble. Two things stand like stone. Kindness in another’s trouble, and courage in your own.”
— ADAM LINDSAY GORDON
YOUR WRITING PROMPT:
Kindness can take on many forms. Sometimes it’s giving someone a lift who needs to make it to a destination. Sometimes it’s choosing to spend some time with someone, knowing they might be feeling lonely. Sometimes it’s buying a bag of hamburgers and offering them to the homeless man on the sidewalk you’ve just passed by. Sometimes it’s just mailing a postcard that says, “Thinking of you.” Sometimes it’s listening to someone you know or don’t know well, becoming a pair of kind ears and a source of comfort—just by listening, hearing and witnessing.
Write about a simple act of kindness, whether it was kindness you offered or received—something that had an impact on the receiver and that portrayed a softened, caring human heart.
Set your timer for 10 minutes and go! Keep your pen moving (or your fingers typing) no matter where this prompt takes you in your timed free-writing today.