A Revolutionary Amongst Us At Kindness In The Park

Posted by Poonam Singh on Feb 19, 2018
1965 reads  
He came walking toward us.

I said “Here. Please take a flower.”

He said “oh wow. I will, but I have nothing to give back.”

We said that is ok. There is no agenda here. It is kindness in the park. My sister Marie holds space like this regularly in the park. We call it Disruptive Kindness.

He said he comes from South Africa.

He had lived in the US for many years, but then he went back to his home in South Africa. He is now back in the United States just for a few days to finish up some work.

He has no place to sleep, he said casually and with a big smile on his face. He said he is facing some hard times. Again that smile. He said: “Challenges are opportunities upside down, right?”

You really made my day, he said.

His smile got bigger.

He said he would tell his family back home in Africa. He said it’s important to tell people back home the positive stories, not just the bad ones they see on the TV.

He said so many have been nice to him in the United States.

Someone helped him get a motel room one night. They were the police and they were all people from different backgrounds. So kind they were to him, he said.

He spoke to a man on the street and made a new friend. That man had a friend who couldn’t take it anymore and he jumped off a bridge. So many suffer, he said. But it was so good to talk to him.

He said we must ignore the jerry springer garbage on TV. It’s not real.

He was in prison for 10 Years.

For 2 years he was jailed alongside Nelson Mandela.

It dawned on me when he showed me the electric shocks on his chest. He was tortured. He was arrested many many times. He lost count.

He is a revolutionary who fought to end apartheid in South Africa.

But his stories didn’t sound like war stories though. He said it very matter of factly, with very little anger. He almost said it casually on the side.

Again that smile and phrase: “You made my day”

He told us he would sit like this with Mandela, just like this.

You made my day, he said, once again.

He told us: “There I was sitting by myself thinking about all my problems and feeling sorry for myself, but then he saw us giving out flowers for no reason at all.” He saw us engaging in disruptive kindness.

He said: “we need people who will sacrifice for the struggle.”

He didn’t say what we needed to sacrifice. But I have been thinking about this question all week after meeting him last week. What do we sacrifice? Maybe our conception of success. Maybe our fears. Maybe our ego. Maybe our status. Maybe our wealth. Maybe what makes us comfortable. What do we give up so that we have the world we want for our children? What on a daily basis will we change in our lives? And if most of us who are relatively comfortable start changing, perhaps then maybe things in the world will really change.

He said “It could be for black justice. Women’s rights. It is all the causes we fight for. They are one in the same.”

There was a time he lost his way, he said. It became about money. He didn’t have friends. He wasn't a friend to himself. He said he had to start there--becoming friends with himself.

I will pay it forward, he said, after we gave him the flowers.

You made my day, he said once again.

I will be ok, he said. I will pull through, he said.

The wisdom kept coming….

“Mandela, Gandhi, so many warriors fought like this. Just like this at the park.”

“We can even help who is in the White House.”

“Thank you for doing this with kids, he said. We must show them.”

He said holding on to anger was like trying to run a marathon with a pregnant elephant on your back. We can’t be angry.

“I was in a refugee camp in Zimbabwe, he said. I think of those in Syria. I will help them once I get back on my feet.”

I was touched with how he continued to see himself helping others in his lifetime, even after doing so much and even after having so little now.

He knew why what we were doing was important in the big picture….he knew why it was important for change in the world. Sometimes I wonder…. Is disruptive kindness making an impact? Does this small humble effort matter? Sometimes it’s only a handful of people that will come.

After meeting this lovely man, I will never doubt again. Meeting like this at the park to be kind IS revolutionary. Yes it is. It is making impact. It disrupts the narrative. It disrupts the narrative of fear, scarcity, hate, competition, separation.... all of that.

But more than anything I felt, wow, to witness happiness like that. He has gone thru prison, torture, refugee camp, being away from home, being black in the US, and he is sleeping outside. But still he still smiles and has such faith in humanity.

As he left us that day, he said one last time: “ You really did. You made my day.” But we really felt he was the one who made OUR day. :)

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Comments (10)

  • Gayathri Ramachandran wrote ...

    I had a similar experience of a conversation with an auto driver last week that uncannily answered some of the questions I'd been asking in my head (rather I'd been struggling with a diminishing of faith in life and felt reassured by that encounter). I love this account of your encounter with this wise man!

    When I hear of, or experience these events, I have this thought -- the divine hears our doubts and fears and sends a wonderful wise person as a channel to shore up our faith in the path of service with small, consistent acts

  • Trupti Pandya wrote ...

    Wow, isnt it amazing that how a simple act of kindness could bring out so much from a stranger. With your share, it reminded me that no act is big or small. What matters is that act itself. Thank you for your gentle steps towards spreading compassion.

  • Poonam Singh wrote ...

    Post Script: We saw Joshua again at Kindness in the Park today. He had more words of wisdom. But not in an advicy, preachy sort of way....just in a natural way. We first just looked at my youngest daughter playing. He said "what a free spirit." He loved that she was free and unafraid. He said look at her. She is just free. We must keep it that way. He was laughing and enjoying watching her. I found myself more relaxed in his presence and noticing the freedom of my daughter. Joshua is his name. I told him I wrote about him. He had a huge smile. He reminded us that people who choose to not be in the rat race sometimes are called the crazy ones but because of their sacrifice we benefit for years to come.  He wanted to encourage us because he recognizes we are choosing [...] See full comment.
    Post Script: We saw Joshua again at Kindness in the Park today. He had more words of wisdom. But not in an advicy, preachy sort of way....just in a natural way. We first just looked at my youngest daughter playing. He said "what a free spirit." He loved that she was free and unafraid. He said look at her. She is just free. We must keep it that way. He was laughing and enjoying watching her. I found myself more relaxed in his presence and noticing the freedom of my daughter. Joshua is his name. I told him I wrote about him. He had a huge smile. He reminded us that people who choose to not be in the rat race sometimes are called the crazy ones but because of their sacrifice we benefit for years to come.  He wanted to encourage us because he recognizes we are choosing a different path.  He remembered the people in Bostwana where he lived for 3 years in a refugee camp. He said they were the happiest people he had ever met.  He was so happy those few years, he said.  They did not abuse women. They respected children so much the adults kept apologizing to the children, not the other way around. He said the answer doesn't lie in money. If the answer was money, we wouldn't have the kind of suffering we see in the US. He looked at my daughter and said the investment you do in her will pay off to 10 more people years down the road and we'll never know exactly how, but it will. The answer is in her, he said....looking kindly at her. The children. We exchanged contact information. I hope we can share stories again, we both said to each other. He left us with a hand-written note: "Thank you so much for uplifting my spirit. Remember that what you are doing you are affecting someone like myself in a very positive way. All heroes stood for principles; they were undermined and defamed but in the end we all benefited for their sacrifice and selfless spirit. Please "Be" encouraged." He signed off as our brother, Joshua. I feel this is not the last time we will meet.   Hide full comment.

  • Mithili Kadambi wrote ...

    What an uplifting story.!
    Good to hear about folks that still care about the wellbeing of others

  • Mithili Kadambi wrote ...

    What an uplifting story.!
    Good to hear about folks that still care about the wellbeing of others

  • Brinda Govindan wrote ...

    Thank you so much for sharing this encounter. Simply beautiful. Big hugs, and much love.

  • Prithvi Raj Singh wrote ...

    Joshua thus teaches us a secret that the first and foremost requirements is to learn "How to become a friend of yourself"

  • Somik Raha wrote ...

    Loved this: "He said holding on to anger was like trying to run a marathon with a pregnant elephant on your back. We can’t be angry."

    Thank you so much for sharing this Poonam!

  • Somik Raha wrote ...

    Loved this: "He said holding on to anger was like trying to run a marathon with a pregnant elephant on your back. We can’t be angry."

    Thank you so much for sharing this Poonam!

  • Aabha wrote ...

    This is such an inspiring story. Thank you for sharing and lifting the clouds of doubt :)