Hundreds of miles into a long drive after a sleepless night, I pulled over to get a cup of coffee at a convenience store with exhaustingly computerized coffee machines. A leathery man watching me try to program a cup of half-decaf laughed, then showed me how to do it.
Pretty good for a guy who doesn’t own a computer, a cell phone, or a credit card, right? he said. We stood talking about how the internet has changed everything. Like this right here, he said, this conversation. Everyone walks along staring down at their phones. Can’t we talk with each other anymore?
I’ll never see that man again. I don’t know how he voted in the last election or how he will vote next year. When I drove away I thought of this poem.
Small Kindnesses, by Danusha Lameris
I’ve been thinking about the way, when you walk
down a crowded aisle, people pull in their legs
to let you by. Or how strangers still say “bless you”
when someone sneezes, a leftover
from the Bubonic plague. “Don’t die,” we are saying.
And sometimes, when you spill lemons
from your grocery bag, someone else will help you
pick them up. Mostly, we don’t want to harm each other.
We want to be handed our cup of coffee hot,
and to say thank you to the person handing it. To smile
at them and for them to smile back. For the waitress
to call us honey when she sets down the bowl of clam chowder,
and for the driver in the red pick-up truck to let us pass.
We have so little of each other, now. So far
from tribe and fire. Only these brief moments of exchange.
What if they are the true dwelling of the holy, these
fleeting temples we make together when we say, “Here,
have my seat,” “Go ahead—you first,” “I like your hat.”
For more information on Danusha Lameris, please check out her website.