I was standing at the bus stop, minding my own business. Which is my speak for trying to ignore the woman beside me, who had been waiting there with me for the past 15 minutes and was now looking at me with a ‘let’s have a nice little conversation here’ face. My trusted MP3 player had unexpectedly run out of charge and without anything to shield me from her, I felt annoyingly vulnerable.
From the corner of my eye, I saw her inch closer. With nowhere to go [I was standing at the farthest end of the stop], I furrowed my brows and put on my best scowl. But as they say, whatever will be, will be.
“These buses have no sense of timing, no?” her chirpy voice piped up.
I looked at her and gave her this polite smile and the head bob.
“We’ve been standing for almost half an hour, you know. Pathetic.”
We, huh? Lady, you’re fast. I thought to myself, my irritation increasing by the minute.
“Hmm…yeah.” I said, with this far away, absent minded look.
Nothing seemed to deter her though.
“So, you live nearby?”
And on and on it went. I tried to zone out, but she was of the bright eyed, bushy tailed, curious kind, which meant I had to, albeit reluctantly, be a part of the conversation. She was being really friendly and was perfectly good natured. Yet I was wary about engaging with her and was being a jerk.
Think of a time you caught yourself being a cautious jerk. Maybe not with a stranger. Maybe even with a friend or partner or family. Ever wondered why you behaved the way you did?
Because you have let life turn you hard.
The kind of hard that comes from living through disappointments, pain, lost friendships and broken dreams. From waking up in cities that are growing impersonal by the minute. From dealing with people who are not what they seem. From being lied to, ignored or taken advantage of far too often.
The kind of hard that we’re told is professional, sensible and realistic. That stops us from smiling at a stranger or accept a friendly gesture with grace. That makes us tell half truths, show half kindness or give half love. That compels us to play our cards close to our chests, and not let anyone in.
The kind that, eventually, isolates us from the world.
It’s not difficult to see why hardening your heart may seem like a worthwhile defense. When you stay guarded, you stay detached. The less involved you are in something, the less it affects you. The less you give of yourself to someone, the less you have to lose, in case things go awry.
What never occurs to you is that, in the process, you’re blocking out a lot more than you think. Like the friendships, you’ll never know. Love you’ll never feel. Soul mates you’ll never meet. The kindness you’ll never see. Sincere words you’ll never hear. Hearts you’ll never touch.
We are not islands. We thrive on connections, on being a part of something, on meaning something to someone and on making a difference in someone’s life.
Inspite of all that is wrong with our lives, people and the planet, this world is still a beautiful place to be in. This life is still a miraculous gift that we’ve been given for a limited period of time. There still are people who deserve our open heart, our nicest gestures, and our sincere soul.
Don’t let the disappointments, bitterness, hypocrisy, and pessimism around you permeate into your soul. Don’t let it harden your heart and prejudice your mind.
Look at the world with the eyes of an old soul but the heart of a child – all knowing yet trusting and enthusiastic. Focus on all that’s right, all that’s working and all those who’re being wonderful to you. And you’ll realise that it really is not that bad a place to be in.
But sometimes, life throws you down far too many times. It tests your heart far too much. It brings you the wrong connections, far too often. What if your heart is hardened beyond repair? What if you’ve gone past the point of return?
You still have a choice. The choice of not acting hard, even if that’s how you feel. The choice of returning kindness with kindness; of being friendly to the friendly and of smiling back at the one smiling at you.
Just by mirroring their good thought or action, you can still light up someone’s day.
And who knows? Maybe over time, it’ll light that little flame in your heart too, that can melt the hardness away.