Falling upon kindness

6am. We’re pulling into the gas station at the southernmost edge of Squamish, when we realize that my partner has forgotten his wallet and ID. We’ve been up since 3am, our plane is leaving in two hours, and we’re 100 km and 80 minutes from the living room where the black backpack containing crucial ID is sitting. No matter how many times we redo the calculations, the fact remains. We cannot bend time.

We’re not going to make it.

Several doors are slammed. Once the five year old in the backseat has processed that a missing wallet means a missed flight, a missed trip to Grandpa’s, a missed wedding, he starts generating solutions: “Just send me. Or me and Mama. You can stay here.” It is considered. But no. We’re a team. There are simply no easy options.

We squander a couple of precious minutes playing Pin the Blame on the Partner, but the fact of the matter is, it was 4 am and it’s been a stressful week since the RCMP knocked on our door at 10:30 pm to inform us that our friend had passed away. The black backpack sitting in the living room with our necessary wallet and ID belonged to him and is otherwise full with all kinds of personal papers, to help my partner manage some of the work that falls upon those who are left behind – securing death certificates, arranging a cremation, talking with lawyers, cancelling cards and accounts, notifying family and friends and ex-wives and whoever else ought to hear the news personally before Facebook drops a grief-bomb in someone’s lap – and so in the midst of this, it was easy for both of us to forget that particular bag as we hurried out into the pre-dawn, it was easy to assume the other person had put the backpack in the car. Who’s to blame? Who cares.

But help we do need.

We both think of Jay at the same time. My husband is already dialing before I out-loud the thought myself. We call our neighbour and friend at 6am, vibrating and vulnerable with the ask: can you derail your morning and risk being late for work to double back to our house, grab the bag, and hightail it to Whistler?

Blessedly, he says yes. And he adds, “You could still make it. I’ve made it to the airport in under two hours before. How are you? How’s your anxiety level?”

How lucky we are.

We pull into the Royal Bank parking lot within minutes of each other. The black backpack passes between our cars like an exchange of contraband.

Asking for help is my Kryptonite, but I’m going to have to ask for help another half-dozen times this morning, not from the Jays of the world, who always show up when someone needs them. I’m going to have to ask help from career airline staff whose jobs are entangled in policy and procedure and decades of service-slashing and cost-cutting and who wake up brutally early every morning to face slow-snaking queues of disgruntled passengers needing help.

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As we roll off the Sky train, my ticket doesn’t read. I push against the unyielding barrier, blocking the passengers surging behind me. A man leans over, deftly swiping his pass across the computerized gate, and I’m moving again. His quick and ready kindness reflex is the second of my morning. I let myself feel hopeful. The airline staffer expresses a cool sympathy and tells us that holding three seats for the only direct flight now heading to Ottawa, 10 hours from now, will be $450. Unless we want to risk going stand-by. It takes an inordinate amount of time for her to cancel our tickets and put us on the stand-by list, and finally, she hands over three boarding passes. “Don’t tell anyone,” she says. She’s secured us seats. I cry fat immediate tears, right there.

A line from a song comes to mind: I am not the only traveler who has not repaid his debt.

I talk about kindness a lot these days… mostly because I’m willing myself to believe in it. It’s hard to find in the headlines. But when things fall apart, the kindness of strangers is the landing pad you hope to find beneath you. Even when you talk about kindness as often as I do, its arrival is so unexpected that it undoes me. When you need help, people step up. They really do. Just as we’re doing for our friend who is no longer here. I’m glad he felt he could ask, that he could count on us, count most especially on my partner who spends the 12 hour layover in the airport on the phone, sorting through the paper-trail of his life.

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And we will have to ask, too — we are reminded again about our unfinished will, the unnamed executor, the people we’d ask to raise our son if we couldn’t. We have to ask. And trust that when we fall, kindness will once again cushion the ride.

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