3-27-21 Dr. Charlene Jin Lee

Simple Gifts

The store manager pulled out his cell phone and dialed for me, but no answer. Maybe send a text? With his tightly purple-gloved thumbs, he quickly typed a message detailing the situation and offered me a glance for approval: hey babe, I’m here at the store and having car trouble…

I’ve never called James, babe, but these are unusual days. Perfect, I said. As he hit send, a woman behind me carrying a carton of eggs chimed in: dear, I think I have one of those battery cable things in my car; should I go to the parking garage and check?

In March 2020, two days late to the panic buying chaos, I maneuvered into a parking spot. The kind of spot you find only because everyone else decided it wasn’t worth trying. A massive HVAC duct hanging overhead, a concrete pillar and a milky white Porche inches away on either side. I had to climb out of my SUV through the trunk!

After braving the anxious crowds pushing jam-packed shopping carts and then an impossibly long check-out line, I finally got back to the car and loaded the trunk with grocery bags leaving open a path to crawl back to the driver’s seat. The thought of collapsing on to the couch, my only supply of strength for the moment. Relieved to be heading home, I turned on the engine. I tried again. And again. No ignition. I reached in my bag. I reached again. And again. No phone.

Two flights back up at the frenzied market, between a lavishly tattooed store manager and an elegant 70-something soul holding delicate eggs, I was cocooned in kindness.
20 minutes later, the store manager was on the phone with James following instructions to reconnect a wire that had been causing trouble for some time. The manager followed me to the lower level parking structure and inched to the front of the car and ducked his head in the half-opened hood. I crawled into the driver’s seat through my grocery pathway. After a few minutes of coordinating, the car was revving.

Cars were lined up to take this slivery wedge of a parking spot. All I could do was back up with careful skill and hastily thank Kindness, now smiling with two purple thumbs-up and a black smear on his cheek.

I often think about that Saturday morning one year ago. Those first few days when fears about a pandemic were brewing, when everyone was fending for themselves, when there was no time to waste on generosity, when kindness poured over me.

Simple gifts have marked the winding path of these trying and weary days. These first visits of kindness are among those gifts that have nourished me throughout this hard and harsh year, like spring rain pattering the earth.

We weep when the light does not reach us.

We wither like grass when someone close does not pour kindness on us.

-Meister Eckhart


May I be a gentle speaker of caring words.

May I be a cheerful giver of inconvenient actions.


May we offer simple gifts.

May we receive simple gifts.


Kindness pourings.

How sweet the sound.