I remember it as thought it happened just yesterday. When this one thing happened in my life. I was in the midst of a turbulent time in my previous career as a defense contractor. My former company was undergoing a fundamental transformation; seemingly overnight, we went from a privately held company to a publicly traded corporation and the threat of layoffs and attrition was all the sudden hanging over everyone’s head. It was during this contentious time that I found myself back at the corporate offices in McLean, Virginia. From the laid back atmosphere of working at client sites to the stuffy confines of cubicles and office hoteling, all the sudden I started feeling the stress of tight deadlines and tighter personalities competing over ego and pride.
The pressure of endless RFPs and White Papers was getting to me. I felt the noose of corporatism tightening around my neck and the anxiety of lack of work letters and pink slips was affecting my health. My spirits suffered for it; I started to withdraw from my friends and felt the weight of depression slowly inverting my soul from happiness to mournfulness. I did not know it at the time, but I would realize over time that the worse thing one can do when feeling ennui is to disconnect from others and wallow in despair alone. I am a giver by nature, my joy has always been derived by how much I could help others and put smiles on the faces of strangers and friends alike. When sorrow became my bedfellow, I felt useless to others. Unable to entertain because melancholy was grounding my jovial nature into dust, I skulked and withdrew into the shadows of solitary regret.
It was during this season of tribulation that a magical occasion intruded in my life. While smoking a cigarette on a dreary December afternoon and pondering life shrouded by contemplative angst, a lady walked up to me out of the blue and said something that shattered my rumination and refocused my attention away from despondence. “You are blessed, just know that you are loved”. She uttered these words and walked away without saying anything further than that. It was the most serendipitous of interventions; whether she knew it or not, this random stranger planted a seed of hope in my heart. Her act was small but the repercussions of her simple gesture would reverberate throughout my life.
That day was a marker of sorts. Loath to accept help from others and hesitant to let others give to me for fear of being hurt, I learned a long time ago to be a giver out of defensiveness. You see, giving is something I can control. But to receive from others is something that is beyond my ability to regulate. I’m pretty sure that there are others who are reading these words and nodding along in complete understanding. This is why I say that extreme giving is just as problematic as extreme selfishness; people who love out of hurt end up mired in codependency and add on yet more scars. That day, a stranger in a red dress gave to me kindness when I was not looking for it and walked away before I could reciprocate.
I reflected on that cold December day plenty of times during my two year journey of adversity and indigence. During the most trying time of my life, it was other random strangers who planted seeds of hope in my wounded heart. What I learned over the years is that we have the ability to either be angels or devils to one another. Too often these days, unable to cope with our inner demons, we let loose spirits of malice towards others who are struggling like us. I witness it all the time and I often partake in this foolishness myself, instead of responding to hatred with love, we let anger and antipathy be our retorts when confronted with hostility from other broken souls. Misery loves company, that is why it is easy to tear others down when we are broken inside.
What if we did the opposite? What if we made it our purpose to pass along random acts of kindness even if we don’t feel like it? The same way that anonymous lady in McLean planted a seed of hope in my heart, we too can ameliorate the pains others go through in their lives. Don’t let pretenses of happiness fool you; even those who you think have it made could be going through their darkest hour at this exact time. We have learned as a society to put on masks of glee and pretend like all is well regardless of the tribulations that gash at our sides. This is why many withdraw like I once did; the pressure of acting happy during a season of woe is too much to bear–seclusion becomes a refuge from the world. I know there are some people reading these words contemplating isolation for fear of burdening others. If that is you, just know that you are not alone and don’t let the need to entertain others add another layer of apprehension in your heart. It seems that the whole world is up in arms demanding justice and asking for a fair shake. Yet too often, we are giving way for vindictiveness to guide our actions and letting vengeance be our moral compass. But fighting fire with fire only ends with two burn victims; there is no profit to be had by letting bitterness be our North Star. The biggest change we can impart on this world is through the smallest acts of kindness. What seems insignificant to the giver can be a watershed event for the receiver. That lady who gave me a word of encouragement and walked away when I was facing my first dance with distress shifted my perspective. She taught me to receive random from the world, in time that led me from the abyss of hopelessness into a life of purpose. She changed my life with this one thing—kindness. #ThisOneThing
“Not until we are lost do we begin to understand ourselves.” ~ Henry David Thoreau
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Check out this segment of the Lee Camp show Redacted as Lee interviews me about my journey from the abyss to a life of purpose and how life’s travels led me to fighting for inclusive justice.
This is the Ghion Cast of me sharing my testimony. One thing I found out in this world is that pains don’t have to be monopolized, when we share our stories and our experiences of overcoming hardship with others, both the listener and the speaker mend.
Originally from Ethiopia with roots to Atse Tewodros II, Teodrose is a former community organizer whose writing was incorporated into Barack Obama's South Carolina primary victory speech in 2008. He pivoted away from politics and decided to stand for collective justice after experiencing the reality of the forgotten masses. His writing defies conventional wisdom and challenges readers to look outside the constraints of labels and ideologies that serve to splinter the people. Teodrose uses his pen to give a voice to the voiceless and to speak truth to power.