A Lesson on Being Nice

I strongly dislike transit. Yes I know, I need to check my privilege on this one big time. Living in Metro Vancouver requires to use transit more often than not, so I am forced to transit to work or school or to places that I need to be most of the time. And most of the time, the people I encounter on transit are rude or creepy, and the busses are late beyond belief.

Added on to a awful day at work, this is a combination for disaster and a very irritable Rachel. 

This was the set up for me the other day. I had an awful day of work, charged with stress and rude people on the phone directing their anger on to me. It’s not personal, but it’s draining. As I left the office I felt so drained and I just wanted to get home. But of course, the busses were running late and I had no way of knowing how long it would be until the next bus actually showed up.

I approached the stop, bitter about the way that my day had unfolded. Evidently, I didn’t hide it very well and I must have been giving off really threatening vibes. But suddenly, a soft voice cut through my anger and tension.

“Do you know how I get to Guildford?”

I looked up from my phone and turned to this woman who was sitting next to me at the bus stop. She had heavily accented English and she looked confused, lost, and even a bit afraid. I put aside my phone and answered her question.

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(For perspective, I was coming from the RCMP Headquarters, which is walking distance to King George Skytrain. There were a few options to get to Guildford from where we were, but they would entail going via Surrey Central, which you would need to bus to).

I proceeded to tell the woman that she needed to take a bus to Surrey Central first, and then change to a different bus in order to go to Guildford. The stop that she was waiting at was going to help her get to Surrey Central, I told her, and that I could help her find that second bus as I too was headed to Surrey Central.

She thanked me and then we both fell silent for a bit. After a few beats, she turned to me and said, “I’m new here. I just moved to Canada yesterday.”

I was shocked that someone who had just gotten her was already so eagerly and diligently trying out our transit system. She then began to tell me about her life and where she came from, and what brought her here to Canada. Originally, the woman was from a village north of Kampala in Uganda, in Eastern Africa. In her village, she laughed, there was no such thing as a sohpisticated transit system, as they would walk everywhere. When I told her how long it would take to walk from Guildford from where we were, she continued to laugh and said that it would be no problem for her. And I believed her; her resilience was prominent, and despite being nervous and afraid, she dove fearlessly into this new place that she would eventually call home.

She came here to meet her husband, who had moved here 7 years prior and had finally saved up enough money to bring her and their children over. She showed me pictures of her children – an 8 year old boy, and two girls aged 5 and 3. The 8 year old had a bright smile with two front teeth mising, one of which was lost on the flight to Canada. The girls had matching hair styles and were wearing matching dresses. They chose Vancouver for the trees and the mountains, and she recounted how she would be walking with her daughters in the flat fields, telling them that one day they would be in a place where there were trees and mountains. That one day, the would experience sunshine in a completely different way, and that there might even be snow. I laughed at that, emphasizing on the word “might”.

But beyond the mountains and the trees, they were here for better opportunities. Her girls weren’t allowed to go to school, and because of the drought that had ravaged Uganda, there were times when her son would go to school hungry. Her children are bright, she told me. And I believe her. These are children who, like other children their age here, deserve all the opportunity in the world. Here she was, pursuing a country that she didn’t know. And she was doing it with a smile and a kind heart.

As it came time for us to part ways, I directed her to where to catch the bus for Guildford. She thanked me for helping her and told me to have a good day. After that, she pulled me a little closer and told me, “I hope your day gets better. I was scared to bother you, but I’m glad that you were nice and were able to help me out.” With that, she turned to run and catch the bus that I had shown her.

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Unfortunately for me, I have a very angry looking resting face. When I am angry, that deepens the expression even more. In the past I have been called out for it, and friends that I have now sometimes admit to me that they were afraid to talk to me in the past due to this very fact that I look constantly angry, or at least annoyed. This interaction with this woman has added an extra dimension to this whole problem that I seem to have with my face muscles – seriously. We all are entitled to our emotions without having to justify them. You have a right to feel angry, to feel sad, or to feel happy. If you feel angry, there is no use holding it all in and pretending like everything is fine and that you don’t have any cares in the world. However, this has shown to me that I do have an issue with what is scientifically known as “resting bitch face (RBF)”, and that nothing – not even a really terrible day – should get in the way of being a nice person and helping someone out.

It’s tough sometimes to put aside your pride and emotions and put your best face forward, but sometimes it’s worth it. Her well wishes for me to have a better day did indeed help. I hope that I did the same for her, despite my apparently internal hostility that was showing on my face.

Thank you to this lady for sharing with me her incredibly life journey and giving me a lesson on simply being nice.