Random Kindness

An Invisible Beggar &
the Best Thing in Life

What have teacher Robyn Overstreet, TV host Leon Logothetis, and the Surrey, British Columbia’s City Centre Library shared in common during the past months?
They all have given away something valuable and unusual and free of charge to whoever wanted it or needed it or just happened to be around at the time.
Logothetis’s offered free cab rides; Overstreet picked a song in exchange of someone’s grief; and the library acually sent readers along with books to the home of those who’ve checked them.
These three instances are surely good antidotes for those who at times feel so jaded, so cynical, so over the top that even admitting having read about it on the online magazine Good makes them feel guilty.
No need to dwell on that, at least for now. Be as such acts may, neither completely random nor devoided of purpose, they did provide an earnest relief, and we’d be damned many times over if we’d have failed to recognize it.
The fact that they were all reported by Good may indeed test our own limits to sugary diets. But one can always make a case whenever it becomes easier to share a pint with a lout in a tie than to shake hands with a homeless person.
Speaking frankly, who has the time and stomach to listen to the litanny of someone else’s troubles these days? That is, if you’re not charging them to do so, either in money or in their unwavering belief in your moral authority (whatever that means).
Some say, that’s why Twitter and the social networks have been created for. To give people an audience to their innermost thoughts, as if they were revelations handed out to them only, by some ethereal being.
That’s why most people read only their own stuff on these sites. Enough said.
Overstreet‘s initiative, thus, is highly unusual because it goes beyond even taking the time to listen to you; she also offers something in return. Not advice which, as everyone knows, if it were that good, it wouldn’t be free.
She acts as a kind of personal DJ for your angst, and hand-picks an appropriate song in exchange for your sorrows. You may complain that there’s almost no American standards in the repertoire available.
But it’s not her fault: choice, after all, is limited by demand, and the fact that Beyonce, Coldplay and the cast of Glee are big hits reflects her public’s demographics.
But it’s free and it’s Taylor Swift-made to suit the grief of whoever accesses her site. If you want to try, go ahead and ask for The Rite of Spring, or an obscure Tom Waits song from the 70s to see what happens. Who knows?

Logothetis, host of the 2006 NatGeo’s series Amazing Adventures of a Nobody, is on a road trip. But we’re the ones going places. His ‘Kindness Cab‘ tour is taking him to 11 cities (he’ll be in Phoenix tomorrow, the 11/11/11) and the meter will be rolling non-stop.
The fare from each city goes to local schools to buy books through the nonprofit ClassWish initiative. He’s also writing a book about the experience which will be tallied along to cover the donations.
The tour is a retribution of sorts, after he crisscrossed the country a few times, solely on the kindness of strangers. If one of them, or you, happen to hail his vintage London cabby, the choice of destination within city limits is the rider’s.
Even if you forget all that you’ve just read, there’s something highly unusual in his project, noticed only by those New Yorkers who did ride with him. For the first time, your driver would not be screaming on his cellphone.
The opening of a new public library is always good news. While some decry diminishing readership figures or the unfair competition from e-readers, there seems to be always a good reason to literally take refuge inside a place full of books.
The global economic downturn has pigeonholed some governments to take the most immediate, and least forward-looking, way out: slash budgets of social and education programs.
Public libraries are constantly on the chopping block, so to preserve low-tax brackets for those who don’t need them, but can afford to sway policies to their advantage.
It’s all tiresome and infuriating, of course, but then along comes the Surrey library and its fresh take on lending: why not have members volunteering to help other members, by allocating their personal time to spend reading together?
It’s a novel ideal that pools resources, promotes a sense of community, spreads out the knowledge that books ensue, and doesn’t cost a dime to taxpayers, not even those who actually pay less than their subordinates.
Living Books,” as it’s called, gets to be many (good) things to a lot of people. With a big plus: it’s all about the actual paper-bound, ink-marked, dog-eared printed books. E-readers (or Google searches, for that matter) are excluded from the program.
Finally, an off-beat coda to such a molasses of a post: it’s about Serbian panhandler Nemanja Petrovic, who invented his own, unrelated but still novel way of improving the terms of his unwritten contract with kind strangers.
Petrovic got fed up one particularly hard day in the streets of Subotica, and walked away, leaving behind his hat, a pair of well-worn shoes, and a note that he thought, would convey with irony, his lost nerve: “Invisible Beggar.”
When he came back to his prized spot, after cooling off around the corner, guess what? his hat was full of change, according to him, even fuller than in his best days. A performer was born that day.
Now, this sophisticated ‘artiste’ is so well known around the world that even you, thousands of miles away, are reading about his good fortune.
Not to feed you so much Splenda that your tooth ends up hurting, we’re glad for Overstreet, Logothetis, the folks at Surrey, and Petrovic; we really are.
Perhaps that will give us the final push to open up our storage space and donate its contents to strangers, as a pay back for our own good luck in this damned long life.
Problem is, we don’t even know anymore what’s in there now. Probably mostly junk. Coming to think of it, some people may take it the wrong way and get offended, oh dear.
You see how hard it is to come up with something nice to give away? Just think about it. We certainly will.

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