Bounty & Smiles

This blog post is dedicated to all those who appreciate the spontaneous acts of kindness from a stranger as much as I do. It is especially dedicated to people who have been making me smile while we were still practically strangers– i.e. Sarah Khan.

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Whenever we think of ‘kindness to a stranger’, we might visualize looking after the poor, tending to the orphan, or something else of that sort. But noble and inexplicably valuable as those deeds are, this is not the subject of this post. I will not be referring to the large acts of kindness and mercy that humanity cannot survive without; I will instead be referring to the little, small, unexpected and seemingly ‘worthless’ acts of kindness we often don’t do because we’re too busy in our own thoughts to pause and be a part of someone else’s.

CONTEXT: I have a final exam tomorrow, and so naturally, all day I was a hermit crab studying in odd corners here and there around campus where I saw and interacted with almost no one. At the end of the day, I ate lunch with my friend Sarah Khan (what a relief) but she soon left and I went back to complex matrices and inner product spaces. I can’t tell you (cuz you already know) what it feels like to be cut off from society when you’re under academic stress– you may feel sort of down, exhausted, irritable. These feelings I always used to associate with the nervousness that accompanies any exam, but today– today, I realized I was wrong. It is not stress of exams that is emotionally draining, it is the situations we force ourselves into while preparing for them that is.

After a long day of orthogonalization, dirac delta functions and hysteresis loops, I remembered I needed a few supplies from Dollarama. As I was standing waiting for my turn in the very long line at the cash, something was tempting me from the tip of my eye…

Mmmmmmmm. Chocolate. And let’s see what else– double YUMMMMMM! BOUNTY! And dark chocolate version!!!!!

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NO, Aya, I thought sharply to myself. You don’t need that. You shouldn’t want that. If you must absolutely have some, buy it after your exam tomorrow.

But alas, it was not to be left alone. After much inner conflict that lasted the spam of a few seconds, I impulsively stepped aside, grabbed one and quickly returned to my place. The chocolate was ironically sitting side by side next to the toothpaste in my palm, as though mocking me that it was as good for my teeth as the toothpaste was.

I hoped no one noticed my dramatic act of desperation. But the older 50-year-old-ish man in front of me, apparently, did.

He turned around with a deep chuckle and said, “Tu sais, madame, cette chocolat n’est pas bon pour vous.”

I was astounded. WOW, some old man who didn’t have a clue about my identity was comfortable enough to lightly scold me about buying chocolate? I grinned as a response and replied, “Mais donc, j’ai des examens, je besoin un peu d’encouragement!”

He chuckled that adorable chuckle again and assured me, “Ne t’inquiete pas; meme a mon age, j’achete beaucoup de cette chocolat.”

Then we got into an enlightened conversation about just how mouthwatering Bounty chocolate is. This resulted not only in making me feel like chocolate indeed can and should be bought for all wise purposes, but it gave me a chance to work on my French speaking skills as well. (Double bonus!)

After we departed, I felt elated, cheerful and light. An encounter with a totally unfamiliar person was enough to erase my feelings of oh-I-shouldn’t-be-buying-chocolate guilt into optimism, for truly, when has chocolate ever failed to bring people together?

It is times like these, seemingly uninteresting, unimportant, and apparently not worth documenting, that I find the most special time of the day. It’s wonderful to smile in the face of your friend, family or an acquaintance– it’s wonderful indeed, for smiling is a gift– but usually, it is a gift that is to be expected. Whereas when a complete stranger smiles at you, especially in a time you most need it– it is this that sends my heart soaring up high and makes me arrive home looking like I just won the lottery. (“And why are you smiling?” I might be asked at home slyly.)

Here is a most wonderful quote that everyone should take to heart:

A Smile costs nothing, but gives much. 
It enriches those who receive, without making poorer those who give.
It takes but a moment, but the memory of it sometimes lasts forever. 
None is so rich or mighty that he can get along without it, 
and none is so poor, but that he can be made rich by it. 
A Smile creates happiness in the home, fosters good will in business, and is the countersign of friendship. 
It brings rest to the weary, cheer to the discouraged, sunshine to the sad, and it is nature’s best antidote for trouble. 
Yet it cannot be bought, begged, borrowed, or stolen, 
for it is something that is of no value to anyone, until it is given away.
~
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It’s hard, waiting for a random act of kindness. This is why it’s so much fun to be the initiator. The best kinds of smiles from strangers are the surprised ones. You shine your pearly whites at that old woman who looks lonely; she looks back at you, puzzled; then she hesitantly but gratefully returns one back. Sometimes the stranger will even be “brave” enough to start a conversation on the metro with you. It’s so uplifting and, and…

And I don’t know where I’m going with this. All I know is, I was feeling a little down today until an old man thought it worthy to chide me about my obsession with chocolate. Which resulted in me smiling at everyone else on my way home, getting a million Colgate-worthy smiles in return, and feeling like the richest person in the world.

Bounty and smiles; you can’t go wrong in that combination.

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–A.S.

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