In my field, I have the privilege of working with very special people, who often find joy in the smallest of things. Last week, as I began a therapy session with one of my clients, he asked me if he could have my (half-drinken, lipstick stained) coffee. I told him no, and began the session. By the end of our hour together, I had finished my coffee and asked him, “Why did you want my coffee this morning?”
I have been working with him for five months, and every single day, I bring a disposable cup of coffee from home, and he has never made a comment about it before, so why today?
He responded, “I get coffee from 7-Eleven once a month.” When I asked why, he said, “Because I get to buy some when my staff (his group home caretaker) fills up her gas tank.” We ended our session and the rest of the day I continued to think about his monthly cup of coffee…something I seemingly take for granted on a daily (sometimes twice daily) basis.
During our next session, as I was holding my coffee cup, I asked him, “What kind of coffee do you like from 7-Eleven?”
“Sounds delicious,” I said, “When do you get your next one?”
“Two weeks,” he said.
As I left that morning, I knew one thing for sure…I was stopping at 7-Eleven to get him a cappuccino before our next session.
Two days later, I pulled in the parking lot of his day-habilitation center, loaded up our activities for the day, grabbed my coffee, and realized I forgot to get him the cappuccino I promised. So, I unloaded the activities back into my trunk and off I went to the closest 7-Eleven. I walked through the store to the back counter where the coffee machine was, only to find a sign that said “MACHINE BROKEN. THANKS, MGMT.”
Back into the car I went, opening up Google Maps to get myself to the next closest 7-Eleven, all while patting myself on the back for my superior, selfless act of kindness. I arrived at the the next 7-Eleven, got a cappuccino, stood in line while the man in front of me took at least five minutes deciding which lottery ticket to buy, only to hear the cashier say, “Sorry, ma’am, chip reader’s not working.” With a sigh, I walked out to my car, which fortunately had $2 in the center console. I walked back in, gave the cashier the $2 and walked out with my hard-earned cappuccino in hand. On my way back to the day-habilitation center, I secretly praised myself as I anticipated his face lighting up when I proudly presented the coffee. I walked in, cappuccino in hand, and sat down in our therapy room.
“I got you something!” I said, waiting for his excitement to match mine.
“Thanks, Macy!” he said as I handed him the coffee. He immediately set it down and asked what activity we were going to start with.
“Don’t you want a sip of your coffee?” I asked.
“No. I want to work first.” I didn’t push. I restrained my desire for his gratitude and began our session.
Fifteen minutes later, when I feared his cappuccino was no longer warm, I suggested he try it. As I eagerly awaited his response, I told him how good the coffee machine smelled when it was dispensing his cappuccino.
“Well…how is it?” I asked.
“I guess it’s okay.”
“What? Just okay?? It’s not the best cappuccino you’ve ever tasted? Don’t you know I drove all across town to get you that? Aren’t you going to continue thanking me?” I wanted to say. He put his coffee down and directed his attention back to the task we were working on. As the session continued, I grew more and more frustrated about his response.
After our session, I was strongly convicted. Why was it that I so desperately wanted him to tell me how incredible his gas station cappuccino was? Why did I need his affirmation to validate my act of kindness? And why was my act of kindness seeming to become an act of self-service?
Well, y’all, sometimes I don’t practice what I preach. Sometimes I need to be reminded that kindness doesn’t need to result in praise. Sometimes I need a fifty year old client with intellectual disabilities to humble me. To bring me down and remind me that my intentions, no matter how pure, can quickly become self serving if I am not careful. This small incident has reshaped my mind in big ways. It has challenged me to study my heart and question my purpose.
Am I doing this for me? Am I doing this in the hopes someone will see me? Am I wanting recognition?
If my answer to any of these questions is yes, I tell myself no. I pray for a better outlook, a smaller pride, and a changed heart. Today, I challenge you to join me in confronting your mindset and making sure the desires of your heart reveal your kindness, not the opposite.