humans behaving beautifully, kindness

Fuelled with Shame.

The story below happened over 15 years ago and has stuck with me all this time…

I am standing at the pumps, silently cursing the price of fuel, when a young kid pulls up in a red sports car, a huge sticker advertising his speakers spread across the back window. The speakers are amazing. Amazingly loud. I try not to stare, as the music comes in pounding waves from his vehicle. The deep thump of the bass causes the whole surface of the car to fairly hum. I can practically see the sides of the car pulsating in and out, in and out.                 

In a sudden, violent, motion he throws open his door, causing the music to stop at its source, even as the escaped lyrics spread out past him, tumbling over the curb and bouncing on down the street. He glares about. I quickly look away as he starts to fuel up his car, feigning interest in the renegade sound waves reverberating through the traffic.                    

Then, out of the corner of my eye, I notice an old man who had just pulled into the pump behind me, shuffling purposefully towards the kid. I stop looking down the street. The man is stooped with age and carries a cane. There is no doubt now that he means to speak to the young man. I feel protective. Worried. What is the old man thinking? I straighten up, tense with what might happen.                                     

The young kid looks up from his gas tank and notices the old man shuffling towards him. He waits with a smirk on his face. The man stops in front of the youth and says something in a shaky voice. I can’t make it out. Neither can the kid. He leans down until his eyebrow ring is level with the old man’s nose. “I said fill it up with regular,” the old man yells, loud enough to send his own sound waves coursing down the street. Loud enough to cause the kid to jerk his head away.    

The kid only hesitates for a second. “You want your car filled up?” he asks, jerking his chin towards the white Toyota. “That car?”                                                             

“Yes,” the man says, clearly exasperated. “Isn’t that what I just said?”                                 

The kid shrugs, walks over to the man’s vehicle and starts to gas it up. When he finishes, the man reaches into his pocket and shoves some money at the kid. The kid doesn’t skip a beat.                                                                                                             

“I’m sorry sir. You’ll have to pay for it inside,” he tells him, jerking his chin towards the gas station. The man is outraged. He starts towards the station, leaving a trail of opinion in his wake. “Stupid punk. Damn service. This isn’t service. When are they going to get some real help around here?”             

The kid watches him go, lifts his baseball cap, scratches his head, and then resettles the hat, brim facing backward. He looks over at me, catches my eye and grins.  “Reminds me of my Grandpa,” he says.     

I watch him return to his car, still smiling to himself. The baggy pants, baseball cap and facial hardware melt away and he is just a boy. A boy with a special place in his heart for a gruff grandfather. He could have told the old man off. He could have pointed out the three metre sign clearly spelling the words “Self Serve Only.” He could have pocketed the money and let the old man drive away without paying.                                             

I realized, as I watched the entire scene play itself out, I had thought he was going to do all those things and worse. And that bothered me. It bothered me a lot.  Assumptions quickly and carelessly made, based on nothing more than fashion, music preferences and the year on a person’s birth certificate.            

It is a lesson that has stuck with me all these many, many, years later.

Never underestimate the impact a small act of kindness can have. It doesn’t just affect the person on the receiving end, but all those who are fortunate enough to witness the act.

It’s the sort of thing that can fuel kindness and compassion for decades to come.

Photo by Luca Nardone on

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