‘I am too busy to be nice,” she said, and I looked up to catch a glimpse of the person who would say such a thing out loud. She wasn’t an old woman, maybe 50 at best, and her hair was pulled back in such a way that you couldn’t see her eyes, not clearly, anyway. Her head was down as she rummaged through her purse and her heavy bangs draped over her forehead and covered them up.
“Surely you’re kidding,” a woman standing next to her said and then she laughed a little laugh and stared at the woman going through her purse. They had walked in together so I supposed they were friends.
“No, I’m not kidding,” the first one said and she sounded disgusted as she pushed the hair from her forehead.
And that’s when it happened. Someone else had heard her, too. I didn’t see her at first, hadn’t noticed her sitting there. Her voice made look over in her direction. There she was, sitting at a table near the corner.
“You don’t have to be nice,” she said under her breath, but still loud enough for us to hear. She was alone and wore a big coat, a blue one buttoned up nearly to the top. It was ripped at the shoulder and tattered at the sleeves. She was maybe in her 80s ... maybe younger, maybe older ... and her face was tan and worn, like someone who had spent long hours outside. A little pile of crackers was all that sat on the table in front of her. She looked straight at the woman who had said she was too busy to be nice, and the woman stopped her rummaging and looked back at her.
“Are you talking to me?” she asked and I held my breath. I couldn’t tell if she was annoyed or surprised or both. The older woman shifted slightly in her seat and looked down for a second, then back up before she said a little louder this time, but still very softly, “You don’t have to be nice ... as long as you are kind. ”
Silence. For a moment.
“Thank you,” the woman said to the older one. She didn’t smile when she said it, only looked at her and pushed her bangs away from her forehead again. Then she stepped up to the counter to pay for her lunch. Her friend turned around and smiled uncomfortably at those of us waiting behind her. That’s when I heard the crinkling of paper, and looked over to see the older woman putting the packets of crackers in her pocket.
“Let’s go,” the woman too busy to be kind said to her friend and handed her their order. They left. I stepped up to the register.
“Just one minute,” the man at the counter said as he reached for a bowl of soup behind him and took two big cookies from a glass case. He walked over to the older woman sitting at the table and placed them in front of her.
“Something for you,” he said. She looked startled, then shook her head as if to say no. “It’s OK,” he told her. “You don’t have to pay for it. It’s from a nice lady who just left.”
The older woman didn’t smile as she looked down at the meal he placed in front of her. She simply closed her eyes and nodded ever so slightly.
That’s when it happened.
“She is too busy to be nice,” she said softly, under her breath, but still loud enough for me to hear. “But she is kind, Lord. She is kind.”
I looked up the definitions of nice and kind when I got back to work that day. To be nice is to be pleasing and agreeable, delightful. But to be kind is to show compassion, to genuinely care about other people.
Nice is something we should never be too busy for. But I pray this new year that we all take the time to be kind.
Lord, please help us all to be kind.
Contact columnist Mandy Flynn at firstname.lastname@example.org.