When I was twenty, I lived alone in a one bedroom apartment located in the less attractive part of Mesa, Arizona. I had three pieces of furniture: a chair, a bed, and a bookshelf. All were used, second hand items that I found here and there. I was going to school, majoring in motion picture production, and had big dreams of becoming the next Tom Tykwer, Stanley Kubrick, or Quentin Tarantino.
Things were hard then. There were many times I had to wash my clothes by hand in the bathtub for lack of quarters to use at the laundromat. At the time, I considered myself blessed because there were lots of people worse off than me, and water was included in my rent. I was not so lucky when it came to electric. The most affordable way to get electricity for a young person with no established credit was to purchase an M-Power box (a pay-as-you-go box from S.R.P. Electric). If I went without heating or cooling, five dollars could last me three to four days. In the summer months however, when temperatures get well over a hundred degrees, I could run the air at 80 degrees for half a day before my five dollars was used up. Since I usually only had three to five dollars a week to put on the box, I decided to go without running the air entirely. Most days my apartment got up to 105°F, and I took cold baths to escape the heat.
Every day, I walked three miles to work as a bar tender at a pizza restaurant. It was during one of these walks that I gained an important life experience. I was scheduled to work during the hottest part of the day, and the weather forecast on my neighbors’ T.V. wafted through my open windows. It would be hotter than 119 degrees, a record breaking high, the weather man said. I was getting my uniform on when the power box ran out of money with one day left till payday. The smoke detector chirped loudly every 30 seconds as a constant reminder that I was in need of more power. I searched the house for any money I could find and came up with a dollar. Luckily there was an S.R.P. pay station on my way to work.
I was three minutes into my walk, and I was already covered in sweat. Halfway to the electric pay station, I had lost any hint of what little positive attitude I had left. The heat was unbearable, the kind of heat that sucks the moisture out of your lungs with each breath. I began hoping for someone — anyone — to pull over and give me a ride, even if it meant hitching a ride from a serial killer. I pictured all the movies and T.V. shows I had ever seen with a person stranded in the desert. I suddenly understood, in a way I never had before, why they were always crawling and wearing their underwear on their heads. As I entertained the idea of wearing my own underwear in the same fashion, I looked up to see I had made it to the pay station. Upon entering the building I was hit with the most amazing cool air, and I could breathe again.
I walked over to the machine and saw the green flash of money in the hand of the woman next to me. It was enough money to keep my air turned on for a whole week! I imagined what it would be like to have a cool house, and lights ON whenever I needed them! I looked down at my crumpled dollar and realized it wouldn’t last two days.
“It is a hot day today, isn’t it?”
I looked up from my sad dollar, a bit bewildered, to see the woman next to me staring in my direction with a friendly smile.
“Oh, um,” I mumbled, “yes. It is.”
My dollar was rejected by the machine.
“I feel like it gets hotter and hotter every summer,” the woman said, her eyes drawn to the dollar as it was pushed out of the machine a second time.
I rubbed it against the corner of of the machine to get some of the wrinkles out.
“I know. Every year I hear someone saying we broke a new record,” I said as I pushed the dollar in again.
My dollar was accepted, and I finished up my transaction.
“I hope you don’t mind this, but how do you keep your electricity on with one dollar?”
“I don’t really, I walked here on my way to work and put what I had on the card in case the store was closed by the time I got off. I should make enough in tips to make it till pay day. I will walk here tomorrow if I get off too late and a dollar should last the night.”
A look of motherly concern washed over her face as she said, “I have some extra cash if you need-”
“Oh no, thank you. This should be fine.” I felt awkward, and dropped my electric card.
“I used to walk to work when I was your age, and I remember how unbearable it can be. I think you need to let me give you a ride to work.”
I told her it was just across the street, but she insisted, and I agreed.
She told me she was a single mother at eighteen, and talked about the struggles she’d had at that time. I had a chance to cool off and rest before work started because of her. I was glad, at the time, that she was so kind.
The moral of the story is this: Even though I was incredibly unhappy with my life situation back then, I am grateful for every bit of it now. I wouldn’t do any thing different, because I know that with every bad thing that ever happened came an important lesson. This particular moment taught me the importance of kindness. There is not one person on this earth who has not benefited from another person’s kindness at least once.
Even if you are not the type of person that gives to others regularly, one day you will get a call to help someone. The only thing that really matters at that time is whether or not you answer that call.