Something happened before I left campus yesterday. I was standing by my bike, putting on my helmet, wrapping my scarf around my face, pulling on my gloves. During this process, I watched as a driver slowly backed out of her parking spot, pulled back in, tried again, several times. She was stuck. A car had parked right behind her and she couldn’t maneuver out of her spot.
It was 6:45. I had had a long day grading and teaching. I did not want to spend another second at school.
Watched her struggling, I asked myself how I would feel if I were in her place. The answer was obvious, so I slowly rode my bike towards her car as she was pulling out. She saw me and pulled back in. Success number 1: Do not scare the person you are trying to help. I waved, parked my bike, and walked up to her as she rolled down the window. “I can help you,” I offered in what I am sure was not grammatically correct German. “Weiter, weiter, weiter. Ok! Stop!” I showed her the distance between her bumper and the other car’s door, my vertical palms getting closer together, mirroring her slow reverse. Ten in-and-outs later, success number 2: She was free. She rolled her window down: “Vielen, vielen, vielen! dank!” “No problem,” I said. “Have a nice evening.” (Aber naturlich auf Deutsch.)
As I rode away on my bike, I felt good. First it was just a warmth in my chest. Then I realized I that my senses were on overdrive. I could smell the dirt. I could feel the wind rushing past my cheeks like cold water in the shower. I could hear not only the music from my headphones, but also the low rumble of the dynamo powering my bike lights and that winter wind rushing through the trees.
But realizing it made it go away, and I reflected. Why these heightened senses after helping someone, after a so-called random act of kindness?
I felt alive. Really alive.
When else do I feel like this? When I’m running and in the groove. When I’m having sex. When I’m fully immersed in a gripping tale, be it novel or film. When I, in a flash, communicate without words.
And the self-inquisition continued. What does that say about who I am? That I like to really connect with people. That I love reading and pushing myself physically.
If helping random people turns me on, why don’t I do it more often? Would the high wear off if I did something kind every day? Or would I become addicted to the rush?
If Good makes me feel alive, I can understand people who get a kick out of Bad. That doesn’t mean I like it, but I think I understand it.
When do you feel alive? What turns you on?