I was taking money out of a cash point in a sprawling La Paz bus terminal, feeling more than a little exposed in the clear glass cubicle that seemed to magnify the curious eyes looking my way. Sometimes I feel like a unicorn trying to pass as a horse….
I hurriedly stashed my bundle of cash well out of sight and then tried to slip away from the cash point inconspicuously only to find that the door of the cubicle was firmly wedged shut.
With a smile of understanding a guy outside tugged it open for me. I nodded a quick acknowledgement before striding off down the length of terminal, dodging passengers and hawkers, slipping out into the bus bay and weaving between the parked coaches to find a side exit.
Five minutes down the street shouts of ‘senora’ drifted into focus. I never feel quite old enough to be a senora but was curious enough to turn to look. Back down the street was the guy from the bus terminal running after me at full belt.
For a moment I felt nervous, curious, and then saw my cash card in his out stretched hand. In my rush to get away, I’d left it in the machine without noticing, and from his short breath and flushed cheeks, this man clearly been searching all over for me.
In that moment, I had no words even in English to hold the weight of my gratitude, my sense of a minor catastrophe averted by this stranger’s care. I put my hand on my heart and said simply ‘gracias’ in the hope that other words would flow forth to follow. He nodded, smiled and ran off again.
It was a little something nothing and there are so many of them – this kindness in a busy bus terminal, the old lady who noticed I got short changed and lobbied on my behalf, the man who walked me over the border when he saw my nervous looks, the many people who offer understanding for my lack of understanding with more patience than I have with myself. These moments make my heart swell, pulsing, glorious, boundless.
But sometimes gratitude is born as a weight.
I met another traveller on a bus journey. He was heading for the border, out of cash,grumpy-hungry . When the bus stopped for lunch I offered to buy his lunch as well as mine without a second thought. His response was angry, awkward. He told me he would be ashamed to accept. I didn’t understand at all, offered again, smiled, assured him it would be my pleasure and was baffled at his scowls.
Eventually he accepted only after pressing some notes in a currency I didn’t want and didn’t need into my hands. I was utterly puzzled.
And then a man in a bus station left me standing in the street, grinning stupidly at my own mistake, the recognition that my forgetfulness had given someone a chance to make my day. His kindness was a debt that I could not repay.
In that split second I remembered my angry lunch guy and suddenly understood – the weight of needing to repay a kindness could rob the moment of all its joy. The pleasure a happy heart wants to say thank you, to balance things, to give back. At worst that impulse can get caught up in obsessive book keeping of give and take.
I have more thank yous than I can say, more gratitude that pots or pouches could hold, but somehow it lightens me. When I have no words, no opportunity, no way to give back, I simply say my thank yous to the sky.
Accepting a kindness is a sort of act of faith, a belief that I am deserving of what cannot be earned or asked for, that somewhere, somehow it balances. I hope that as I’ve been given, I will get to give with ease and joy and pleasure.
So I don’t keep no count, nor tally my blessings. I let the universe fret over just deserts and let myself be happy.