She was waiting for me at the wall, a light cotton top over her swimsuit. The salmon pink revealed her honey tan. Thinking it was her, I waved. I had been wondering if she would still be there. She had waited for me, waited until we had a chance to meet before christening her new suit in Walden. As she pulled off her shirt the bright yellow ribbing glowed against her skin, setting off the array of colored butterflies, or perhaps they were birds, darting amongst the green undergrowth of cloth on which they flew. “You look awesome,” I called out. “It fits perfectly,” she replied. I broke into a wide grin.
It amazed me yet again how anxious I had been buying the gift, worried I would not get the right size or that it would suit her.
It was another perfect day for swimming and the water was a deep reflective green. The sky seemed paler than yesterday and the clouds like wisps of fine white hair teased and spread across it. By the time I let myself glide into the water Cathy was already out of sight, lost in the vast space of the pond. For mid July the water seemed cool but by the time I had swum a couple of strokes I ceased to think or even notice it.
It wasn’t until I was over two-thirds on my way across the pond, almost at Sandy Point which now spreads itself around a curve in the shoreline as a beach, that it came to me. The smile which I had captured on the selfie we had taken before we left the beach. It was an expression I had not managed to capture on film before and I was curious to remember what I had been thinking when I clicked the button. It was about joy. Sensing Cathy’s gratitude, her feelings had been contagious.
My mind drifted as I continued to reach forward, right then left into the silent green water. I thought back to the previous couple of days, to a totally different scenario, when sitting sweltering in my car at a stop light on route 16 in Cambridge, I watched a young and scruffy looking man with his sign “homeless and hungry, please help,” as he approached where I was stopped. I looked intently toward him and smiled but made no attempt to reach into my bag. I always feel divided in this type of situation, half of me wondering what the dollar I sometimes wave out of my window might get spent on, the other half feeling guilty for having resources, even the car I am sitting in, when others do not even have homes. I watched as the young man took a muesli bar which someone in a car ahead of me handed him and it suddenly dawned on me I could have a box of muesli bars in my bag too, to hand them out in this situation.
That afternoon I stood in front of the breakfast bar selection in the grocery store and bought a box which I thought, if I never get up the courage to give away, I would feel comfortable eating myself. This meant I settled on the Kind bars as opposed to the Nutrigrain bars. Still rhythmically blowing and breathing as I glided through Walden my thoughts flicked forward to the following day when I handed out two of my supply, one to an older man I often see and the other to an older woman I had never seen before. In both instances I waited until I saw that their signs specifically stated they were hungry. I glowed as I turned to swim toward Ice Cove Fort, thinking of the interaction I had had with the woman.
Before she passed my car she had shifted onto the sidewalk, sensing the light was about to change. I had my window half open and was digging into the box trying to retrieve a bar. Grabbing it, I half heartedly waved it in my hand, calling out through the half closed window. She didn’t hear. The light changed. I drove on. But it haunted me. Her thin legs, her unkept clothes, the words “I’m hungry” in small blue print. I drove four blocks and made a mental note that I could go back but would run the errand I had to do first, knowing too well that I might be too focused on getting home and would most probably let it slip.
The haunting continued. It would not release its hold despite my anxiety that my gift may not be welcome. I headed back anyway, but not wanting to tackle the rush hour traffic again, turned off into a side street, parked and walked the two blocks back to the intersection. I waited self consciously to cross the road gripping the bar in my palm. I saw her walking back along the side walk just as she had done when I had been sitting in my car. When I approached her a told her I had not been able to attract her attention but wanted to give her “this,” handing her the oat and honey bar. Her face instantly broke out into the biggest smile ever. She ripped open the plastic and took a bite exclaiming “You’re so kind.”
But the biggest gift was mine. The gratitude I saw in her eyes and read in her face.
Just like the gift Cathy gave me today before we launched ourselves into Walden’s giving pool, leaving me to contemplate what sometimes causes me to forget to be kind.