The SNEWS View: Be nice to someone…pass it on

A simple act of kindness – in this case, just smiling and saying, “Yes, thank you!” – can make a person’s day, even a gas station windshield cleaner.

It was one of the first really nice sunny early spring days. It was a Saturday to boot. And I frankly felt generally cheerful.

I pulled into an area 76 gas station, swiped my credit card and went about starting to fill up. I noticed a heavy-set young man wearing the traditional broadcloth gas station attendant’s coat talking briefly to the woman filling up in front of me, then he turned and walked slowly in my direction.

“Hi. Can I clean your windows?” he asked, quietly and rather meekly. I glanced at his jacket, saw the 76 logo patch on one side and his name, Thomas, embroidered on the other, and was in a nano-second assured he wasn’t some transient out to filch me and make a mess of my windows to boot.

“Sure!” I kind of chirped. I stuck the nozzle into the car as he started to clean the windshield.

“How is your day?” he asked, reserved.

“Fine,” I said. “And how are you doing?”

He paused for a moment and looked down. Seeing his discomfort with my question, I offered an alternative: “Is it a pretty good one for you then?”

“Well,” he said, clearly choosing his words carefully, “it’s better…now.” He paused to take a deep breath as he made a few more careful strokes on the windshield, and then he looked up at me.

“Now that somebody’s being nice…you,” he said as he lifted up one hand and pointed at me.

“People aren’t being nice?!” I asked, taken aback at his response. 

“No,” he said in a low, sad tone that reminded me of the forlorn Eeyore donkey in the Winnie the Pooh stories. He explained how he asks to wash windshields for customers getting their gas and usually he’s either cursed at, ignored or told to get away. I could feel his sadness since he was just doing his job.

“The boss told me I shouldn’t ask, that I should just walk up and start cleaning, and I thought, ‘No, that’s not a good idea’,” he explained as he turned back to focusing on carefully cleaning my car windows.

He finished his fastidious work just as my nozzle clicked off.

“Thanks, Thomas,” I said. “I hope you have a much better day.”

As I started up my car, I saw him approach another driver – would that person curse at him or ignore him, or offer a smile and some warm encouragement? I was driving away before I could see, but the experience with Thomas that day has stayed with me.

Here was someone who was happy to have a job and was just trying to do something nice. And for that he gets beat up over and over on a daily basis from the mistrust our culture has generated for anything that is free and just plain nice. Or maybe it’s just that we are all hurrying too much, in a bad mood, or simply feeling insecure. How long does it take for the weight of angry words or simple indifference to crush a soul?

A simple act of kindness – in this case, just smiling and saying, “Yes, thank you!” – can make a person’s day, even a gas station windshield cleaner.

Pass it on. 

–Therese Iknoian