Shootings. Beheadings. Racism. Riots. Kidnappings.
The news and media this week were full of the world’s woes, layering on the troubles until my heart felt heavy. I read the stories, watched the news clips and felt nothing but sorrow for the events that unfolded, the lives lost or changed forever. It was the sort of week in which losing sight of the beautiful aspects of humanity was all too easy. I forgot, for a brief time, that everyday acts of kindness are still alive and well, until one such act happened right in front of me today. This one small gesture helped restore the balance, at least for me, and showed me that even while darkness is happening around the world, lightness can happen simultaneously, if only in smaller ways.
The return of the sun after days of rain called the city back to life, bringing people onto the sidewalks and children into the parks. Umbrellas disappeared, replaced by parasols and sunhats, laughter and smiles adding to the warmth of the day. Mr. Kim whistled to himself as he got dressed, sunlight brightening his small apartment. Clothes on, he pulled on his hat, picked up his shovel and broom, then took to the street. With the storm past and the cobblestones dry again, he could resume his daily sweeping.
He swept down Buyeong Gucha and into Yeosu-dong, the sun rising higher in the sky, bringing sweat to his brow. The heat warmed his joints, easing them from their rain-induced stiffness. He hummed as he worked, side-stepping passersby while they wandered by, faces buried in their smart phones. No one took much notice of him, but that was alright, better than being looked at with pity or scorn.
Mr. Kim swept his way down the road, past the bottom of the hilltop park, past the surgeon for back and shoulder injuries, past the ENT clinic and the cafes scattered in between. Just before the corner he paused to determine his route and wipe the sweat from his face. It was early afternoon, the sun at its warmest. He stretched his back, enjoying the sights of people walking about, cars zipping through the intersection, life flowing.
The smell of kimbap and soup drifted out of the restaurant on the corner. He usually stopped at the one a few blocks down, but he’d heard rumors about this one. Rumors about the man who made the kimbap. Mr. Kim glanced in the window. The kimbap maker was there, looking down at his hands in their flurry of activity. The restaurant behind him looked full, people sharing lunch in the cool dimness of the small space.
Mr. Kim’s stomach rumbled. Lunch was in short order. He looked once more at the kimbap maker, who was still focused on the rolls of seaweed paper and rice under his hands, then Mr. Kim decided he would keep going straight and stop at Mrs. Park’s kimbap nara like he did most days. She knew when to expect him. Only a few more blocks to go. With that, he gathered his tools again and set out following the cobblestones.
Sweep. Sweep. Push. Sweep. Sweep. Push.
He passed the restaurant, heading for the crosswalk just a few steps beyond when he heard the clatter of flip-flops on cobblestones.
Mr. Kim turned around. The kimbap maker had come running from the restaurant, a can of orange juice in his hand. Mr. Kim could see the beads of water sliding down the can’s cold, smooth sides.
“For you,” the kimbap maker said, holding out the can with both hands in a gesture of respect.
Mr. Kim took the can. Cold sunk into his palms, bringing a sigh of delight to his lips.
“Thank you,” he said, bowing his head.
“And you, for your diligence,” the kimbap maker said, bowing gently then returning to his waiting orders.
Mr. Kim turned back to the crosswalk, opening the can. The rumors were right, he thought, Not a kinder kimbap maker in the city.