I was seventeen, a senior in high school and flying cross country to visit my dad and stepmom for Christmas vacation. I had a layover in Chicago. The times were so different then, no TSA, people milling around the airport like it was a shopping mall. My dad always warned me before a trip not to talk to the “Moonies,” the tambourine playing, robe wearing hippies of the seventies who panhandled at the airports. I kept my loose change securely in my purse in case I needed to call one of my parents, collect from a pay phone. That was my only safety net on these adventures. This trip, I had entered the ladies room and encountered a very long line, as often is the case in airport bathrooms. While standing in line, the door opened and an elderly gentleman pushed his wife in a wheelchair into the restroom. Seeing so many people, she said with a worried look on her face, “Oh dear, you can’t wait in here in this line, we will need to leave.” Another older woman towards the front immediately took control of the situation. “Of course you’re not leaving, everyone step back and you help your wife get to the stall.” We obeyed and both of them looked relieved that the situation solved itself. He pushed her chair past all of us to a handicapped stall. We patiently stood and waited for them to leave.
That day, I made a mental note to myself. “I am going to be like that lady when I grow up, a take charge person.” She knew just what to do. She taught me, an awkward restroom wallflower, that sometimes kindness requires stepping out of your comfort zone and being the one to solve the problem. She taught me that you can learn to be kind by watching what other people do in hard situations. She taught me that kindness often means you break the rules….even silly public bathroom rules.