In today's world, kindness can make a difference
OPINION: When my baby was two months old, life was tough. He'd been pulled out through the sunroof after a long labour; I was struggling with breastfeeding; and let's be honest, adjusting to being a new mum is up there with plucking out your own eyelashes in the fun stakes.
It was a weekday morning, and I was attempting to hold open the door of the cafe while maneuvering the pram through the door. I was operating on about an hour of uninterrupted sleep. I desperately wanted for it to be a regular day where I'd get dressed in normal, non-puked on clothes and go into a workplace where I could have a conversation about something other than baby carriers and sleep timetables, like a regular, well-rested human.
But none of that is possible in early parenthood. In early parenthood, you are skating along on the skin of your caesarean scar and the smell of a faintly pooey nappy. Your eyeballs are on stalks. You are desperately trying to maintain the illusion that you have it all together, and that you're not going to burst into tears or fall asleep at the drop of a tiny hat.
Why is this so hard? You wonder. Why did nobody TELL me?
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In this state, a door that will not open and that nobody will help you with is not just a door. It is a symbol of oppression. It is the patriarchy, expecting you to know how to be a mother instinctively and then do it without complaint, while fitting back into a pair of sexy jeans within five minutes of popping out your perfect baby from your perfect vagina.
Just kidding. It's mostly a door.
On this day though, I wasn't alone. A hand reached out and grabbed the door. "Are you okay?" said the stranger. "Go on in."
I thanked her, and went to find a seat. Moments later, as I was juggling pram, nappy bag, wallet and newborn, she came back over. "What kind of coffee do you want?" she asked, and went to order me a flat white. "I've been through that," she said, as the coffee came over. "It gets easier."
Paying for my coffee was a small gesture, and these were small words. But to me - tired, unsure, vulnerable - her acknowledgement of and empathy towards my situation was incredibly meaningful.
It's not the first time I've had a stranger comfort me in a cafe. In another city, a couple of years earlier, I was grappling with the news a friend had died.
Out of nowhere, I felt a hand on my shoulder. I looked up and a woman was standing there, not really looking at me, simply standing there with her hand on my shoulder.
We remained like that, me sitting and her standing, for a couple of minutes while I shook with the effort of not crying. When I had calmed down, she sat and we talked amicably for a few minutes. I don't even remember now whether I told her why I was upset. She somehow instinctively knew that all I required at that moment was to know that someone was there.
I know neither of these women's names, and I never saw them again. But in a world where we are constantly assailed with headlines pointing to human greed, selfishness and destruction, and where it sometimes feels like millions of people are just yelling at each other on the internet, they were proof that the inherent kindness does exist.
It does exist. It means the world, and it can probably help to change it.
Michelle Duff is a weekly columnist for Stuff.