“Nobody cares about you,” the voices told Kevin, a young man from San Francisco. Kevin had been struggling with depression and loneliness for nearly a year, but lately the relentless internal voices seemed to be growing louder. “Nobody cares. You’re a terrible person. You should die.”
Finally unable to bear the psychological pain any longer, Kevin decided to end his life by jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge. As he rode the bus to the bridge, part of him was still hoping for a last minute reprieve. If just one person shows they care I won’t do it, he told himself. If just one person asks if I’m okay or smiles at me.
But no one asked. No one smiled. When the bus stopped at his destination the driver turned back and looked at the young man. Here’s my chance, Kevin thought.
“Get off,” the driver said curtly.
As Kevin walked to the bridge, tears running down his face, a young woman approached him. Here’s my savior, he thought hopefully. Surely she sees I’m crying. She held out her camera. “Will you take my picture?” Kevin took the picture. Then he jumped off the bridge.
Miraculously, he survived. Later he told doctors, “If just one person had spoken to me that day, things would have been different. If there had been just one smile…”
In a quote often attributed to both Plato and Philo, we are told, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”
Indeed they are. I witnessed this while signing copies of my first book, the Christmas Box, at a Walmart on the Saturday before Christmas. At the time, my book was the bestselling book in the world and people had waited in line for more than six hours to get a signed copy. A few hours into the booksigning a woman walked up outside the roped-off line and shouted, “I don’t have time to wait in your line, Mr. Evans.”
As I looked up at her, I noticed that many of the people standing in my line looked annoyed, likely suspecting that this woman was trying to worm her way in front of them. Then the woman’s eyes welled up with tears and she said, “I just wanted to tell you that my little girl was hit by a car last Wednesday and killed. I’ve read your book every day since then. It’s the only thing that’s keeping me going.”
I got up and put my arms around her. When I returned to my signing table the mood was different. A few people offered to let the woman in line.
Not only do we not know what others are going through, social psychologists have confirmed that we are likely to assume the worst of them. A friend of mine has a luxury box suite at a local sports arena. One evening he was taking his family to a basketball game when they were stalled at the arena’s entry gate by an angry man with “a lot of children”. The man had mistaken the date of the game and his tickets were for the night before.
C’mon, my friend thought. The game’s starting. But as the ticket taker turned the man away, my friend’s wife intervened. “We have extra seats in our suite,” she said. “Come sit with us.”
The surprised man gratefully accepted her invitation. At the end of the evening the man told my friend that he was very ill and having open heart surgery in two days. “I just wanted to do something memorable with my family before then. You know, in case I don’t make it.”
We don’t know what those around us are facing. But something we do know is this: kindness always matters. This Holiday let’s open our eyes a bit wider to those around us–our “fellow passengers to the grave”–and, at least for the season, give them the benefit of the doubt.
And smile. You never know what it might be worth.
If you believe this message, please share. Maybe it will save someone’s life.
Richard Paul Evans is the #1 New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of The Christmas Box and the Michael Vey series. His latest book, The Mistletoe Promise, is currently the #1 Holiday book in America.