Kindness can go a long way

IT was an icy Melbourne night. My fellow film festival volunteers and I had just entered our third hour of scanning tickets, while trying to keep control of a sea of people showing up for a Chilean film I had long forgotten the name of. For the most part, people were co-operative; but the Antarctic conditions had taken a toll on some, causing us some frustration.

A teenager began to get particularly heated once he discovered there was no allocated seating, as he despised queuing, and spitted he would be straight onto twitter to voice his irritation. “Can that please stop being a thing,” I thought bitterly to myself.

Our voices became strained and our legs began to ache as time slowly passed. There are only so many times you can say, “Welcome! Can I help you?” with genuine pleasant emotion. We had a mad rush of five hundred people leaving our only cinema the second the credits began rolling. As we tried to clean up the mess left behind, we also had to get the next five hundred seated within less than twenty minutes.

Inside the cinema, seats were beginning to fill up. Despite knowing it was a sold out session (and being told numerous times not to), people still left one or two seats between them. I dragged myself up the stairs and began to ask people to shuffle along. While most of them seemed annoyed, they complied as I pointed out it was better than someone climbing over them and spilling their over priced popcorn.

All except one.

I had simply asked a couple of people, if they didn’t mind, to move a few seats down making it easier for latecomers. A middle-aged woman on the end, with greying hair and crooked glasses, crimped up as her face as I finished talking. She reached for a wallet, and I quickly noticed a small members card being propelled at my face. Shoving her face back at her phone she tempestuously said, “I do mind in fact. Leave me the hell alone.” I was a little taken back. It was not the first rude customer I had encountered, and I doubt it will be the last. Nevertheless, the blunt and dismissive body language had truly startled me, causing my automated robot greetings to become even more disingenuous.

Back outside, the swarms of people were mostly seated, leaving only a few latecomers, and people grabbing last minute alcoholic beverages, which made me envious. I began to make polite conversation with the security guard who was clearly bored; film crowds aren’t exactly a rowdy bunch.

Unexpectedly, I noticed a light tap on my shoulder. I turn to see a small older man handing me a tiny piece of folded paper. He simply said, “Thanks for your hard work tonight, I hope this puts a smile on all of your faces.”

Once I opened the paper, I discovered a few little corny jokes scribbled on the page. As the other volunteers and I began chuckling quietly to the puns that read like they had come straight from a Christmas cracker, the security guard points out to us the older man across the room seemingly watching with pure delight that he had caused those smiles.

When you’re not being paid for a job, or even if you are, long hours can begin to take their toll. You can begin to feel unappreciated, and exhausted. I normally can reassure myself that I do it, because I enjoy it, but sometimes that just is not enough.

The small gesture from a stranger made me realise that in the fast paced nature of today’s society, more people, myself included, should make the effort to thank those who need it most. The interaction made me realise that although volunteer work can often be tiring, it is the people, who in this case all shared a common love of film, that make it all worthwhile.

It was amazing how much better I felt. Although I can never really be sure what motivated the man to hand us those jokes, it doesn’t really matter. It made all of us working there that night realise that no act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.

After the projection had started rolling, and the latecomers had quietly shuffled into their seats, we were finally allowed to leave, as the volunteers for the next session had arrived. I collected my things as quickly as possible, and began the usual sprint to the train.

As I reached the station, I made the point of thanking one of the gatekeepers for staying out late as I ran through. While I didn’t see their reaction, I could only hope that it had improved their night, as the jokes earlier had improved mine.