“Please be gentle with the tomatoes—and to each other.”
Knowing that someone in my neighborhood paused from their produce shopping to write this thoughtful message on a post-it note warms my heart multiple times a week.
In case we need a reminder, being gentle is defined as having or showing a mild, kind, or tender temperament of character.
When intentionally considering being gentle with others, my mind automatically goes to the phenomenon of having no idea what the person next to us in the grocery store, driving in front of us on the highway, or living a few doors down may be enduring on their journey of life.
Shortly after my husband, Ryan, and I brought our son, Leo, home from the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), I found myself randomly getting extra put together for trips to Target and Trader Joe’s.
As we settled into knowing our sweet son was born with an ultra-rare incurable genetic disorder with a slew of scary and devastating outcomes, these outings became opportunities to feel and look normal. Reciprocated smiles from strangers made me feel seen. Simple acknowledgments that I was also a normal human doing normal human things by other humans—who may or may not have been enduring an excruciatingly painful season of life—were validating. And they truly helped my mental health and well-being.
Random acts of kindness can also be rooted in gentleness.
A year or so later, on a particularly challenging day, I left the house for one of my life-curated trips to Trader Joe’s. Someone must have seen or felt the heartache through my disguise and chose to anonymously gift me a bouquet of flowers. In the moment, the pastel rainbow arrangement of lilies, roses, hydrangea, and ornamental St. John’s Wort made my heart sing, followed by 20-minutes of mascara-smudging-ugly-crying in my car.
This act pulled the rug out from underneath my feet, inspiring me to do the same for others.
As a reformed people-pleaser, these often simple or free opportunities to brighten someone’s day have become beautiful and therapeutic rituals—thankfully in a nonpersonally destructive way.
A seasonal arrangement of flowers from the Saturday morning farmers’ market left on the windshield of a fellow shopper’s driver’s side windshield has become a favorite random act of kindness, and five years later, I’m still doing it regularly.
Many of us have been deprived of everyday thoughtful connection for two years as we continue our cautiousness of not getting too close to others. I miss the closeness of in-person connectedness and I look forward to the day social distancing is no longer a thing.
Earlier this fall, I was out on a solo hike at Rocky Mountain National Park and crossed paths with a group of middle-aged women from the Midwest, here in Colorado on a girls’ trip. They were curious if the trek up to the waterfall was worth the effort of getting there. As a fellow former Midwesterner, I jokingly said it was beautiful, but my outdoor beauty expectations as a now Coloradan have leveled up a bit, offering to show the photo I snapped on my phone so they could gauge for themselves.
Wowed by the photograph, but not so much by the actual waterfall, one asked if I could simply email her the photo, to which I was glad to do.
Next, they asked if I would take a group photo with their camera.
This is actually something pre-COVID-19 that I would literally go out of my way to do at any opportunity, sometimes slightly embarrassing Ryan with my over-excitement and social awkwardness in the process. At any point whilst out hiking, if I see someone taking a photo versus being in it, I over-enthusiastically, sometimes yelling down the trail without realizing, volunteer so they can be in the photo, too.
Whoever is playing photographer is usually taken off guard, but grateful and glad to have a genuine group photo from their adventure. Taking photos of random people, not thinking twice using their phones or cameras, became one of my most favorite things.
Navigating the pandemic with our medically fragile son has changed this.
Through 2020 and 2021, we’ve been out hiking more than ever before, as it’s one of the few activities we feel comfortable doing as a family outside of our home. Since Ryan and I switch off carrying Leo, it’s too risky to handle strangers’ phones and cameras, especially since we generally don’t bring hand sanitizer out on the trail. I’ve sorely missed these fun opportunities to connect and engage while out in nature.
I explained my situation with Leo to these women and offered to gladly take a couple of photos with my phone and to later forward them along with the waterfall, to which they were more than grateful. We made the small talk a bit longer, as we Midwesterners tend to do, then continued in opposite directions.
Gentleness, or “tender temperament of character” was shown in the email reply, wishing my family continued good health, followed by a little green heart emoji.
To me, being gentle with others is the flipside of weakness. It takes vulnerability, openness, thought, love, time, and consideration for someone other than ourselves. Bravery and strength are needed to participate in society with gentleness.
These gestures do not need to be grand, however. Finding one or two specific ways to connect and practice consistently helps us create habitual gentleness toward others. Acts of gentleness can be as simple as holding the door open for the person behind us, leaving extra space in front of our cars while driving on the highway, waving at our neighbor, or making eye contact with a stranger and smiling as acknowledgment.
I’m curious, how do you practice gentleness or random acts of kindness with others? Or, how have you experienced others being gentle with you?
I’d love to read your thoughts in the comments section!