In My Own Words: Kindness and unkindness

By: RABBI RACHEL ESSERMAN, EXECUTIVE EDITOR

I was in Syracuse with a friend for my yearly ear surgeon appointment. (Everything is fine and, unless something goes wrong, they’ll see me next year at the same time.) I was putting my credit card in the parking kiosk, but the machine said it couldn’t read it. When I tried to get the card back, it wouldn’t pop out. In fact, after a few minutes, the display went back to normal and there was still no sign of my card.
It was difficult not to freak out at the potential loss of my credit card. The kiosk had no phone number on display nor did it offer any contact information in case there was a problem. My friend stayed by the kiosk while I went to a law office across the street. The receptionist was wonderful: she looked up a number online, called it and then gave me the correct number to contact about the kiosk. Fortunately, my friend has no problem hearing on a cell phone, so she called that number and the people who answered said they would send someone to help me retrieve the card.
While we were debating what to do if I had to leave for my appointment (the doctor’s office is very strict – arrive late and you risk getting your appointment cancelled and it can take months to reschedule), someone arrived in a truck to open the kiosk and remove my card. I didn’t mind that they asked for identification. In fact, I appreciate when someone does that. What was more problematic was what caused the difficulty itself: someone had stuffed a paper bus pass into the slot, jamming the machine and making it impossible for it to read a credit card. It also meant there was no way to retrieve the card without opening the kiosk.
Why would someone do that? No one was going to make any money off my credit card, well, unless the person figured they could come back later and somehow get my card. More likely it was just vandalism. I felt lucky when the card was returned because it would take a great deal of work to cancel my credit card and make changes to accounts once I received one with a new number. It felt like an unkind and thoughtless thing to do – something that had no impact on the life of the person doing the vandalism, but which would negatively affect a stranger’s life.
I did appreciate the kindness of the receptionist at the law firm. She was willing to buzz someone in the office who didn’t have an appointment and give aid that she could have refused. It may sound like such a little thing, but little things add up. Even though I don’t actively worry about the doctor’s appointment, I’m still a little nervous simply because of the many years when an ear doctor appointment would never contain good news. (No previous ear doctor ever said my hearing would get better, only worse.) So, adding a lost credit card to the experience would not have made for a pleasant day.
This does make me ponder the small kindnesses we can do daily. For example, my treat for the visit to Syracuse is eating at a vegan restaurant near the doctor’s office. My friend is the opposite of a vegetarian: while she eats vegetables, she loves meat. But she humors me and eats vegan because she knows that I love the food there. (I’ve teased her that it’s her own fault: she was the one who found the restaurant during a trip to the doctor she took with me and my mother before the surgery. She and my mom had lunch there while I was having tests done.) While I can easily drive to Syracuse by myself, it’s much more fun to do it with someone else. She now claims it’s our tradition and mentioned going again next year. I’m just hoping there will be a lot less excitement before the appointment itself next time.