The Three Ingredients “Kindness Recipe”

Damn, I’m crying over a loaf of bread.

My neighbour, a soft-spoken, elegant, and withdrawn Korean woman stopped on her way to work to hand-deliver a loaf of bread she baked for me a few hours earlier.

Warm out of the oven, hand-scored on top in the shape of an ear of wheat, lovingly sprinkled with chia seeds. Imperfectly shaped into a circle, creating a perfect loaf of bread.

Water, wheat, and a sprinkle of seeds.

And I cry.

Big hard sobs roll out of my eyes as I hold the loaf near my heart, taking in its comforting smell, letting its warmth hug my hands.

I’m a huge fan of small acts of kindness. It’s a genuine pleasure in my life to think about the people I love and find ways to surprise them with little attention, thoughtful actions, or straight-up generous self-sacrifice for them. But I rarely do it anymore for people I don’t really know.

I spent an afternoon drinking tea with this lady and her husband once. Just once. You see, her daughter is in my son’s class, and their family lives a few minutes’ drive from us.

And I’m crying because this lady, whom I barely knew, thought of me and my family early this morning as she was baking bread. Amidst the craziness of getting her daughter to school, feeding everyone breakfast, getting ready, and the million other things a mother does in the morning, she paused and thought of us. And added to her busy schedule the time to bake an extra loaf, that she would deliver to us – completely unannounced – on her way to work.

Water, wheat, and a sprinkle of seeds, and so much more too.

Love, kindness, generosity, thoughtfulness, humanity. My hands feel warm and loved hugging that loaf and my initial tears are now replaced with a beaming smile. How I wish my daughter was here to witness this moment.

The thing is, my neighbour had no idea that today I woke up feeling very low.

That, this morning, I didn’t have the courage to get out of bed at 4:45 am as usual to work on my book.

That, this morning, I wanted to disappear for a while, feeling the weight of life, with a deep desire to escape it.

And that this past week, I’ve seen my mental health spiral down for no obvious reason other than tiredness and a deep feeling of overwhelm from the work ahead of me.

Her kindness rescued my mood and my day. Reminding me of its power. Gifting me a story to share with my daughter when I drive her to musical theatre class later this afternoon.

How grateful I am to see my mood healed with innocent kindness.

And how inspired I feel to perform more acts of kindness for the people I love and everyone else too.

Water, wheat, and a sprinkle of seeds, and an impact greater than the grandest gesture.

For the longest time I felt I was going to die young. It’s not the kind of thing that is easy to explain or make sense of, but it was a strong feeling that lasted from my early childhood until I turned thirty-one years old. Feeling Damocles’ sword hanging above my head led me to pack an entire life of experiences in my first three decades on earth. 

I’ve studied, explored, loved, travelled the world, learned two foreign languages fluently, taken risks, moved across the globe, got married, birthed two perfect children, bought a house, built a business from an idea, bought another business and renovated it before reselling it for profit, helped countless people often for free and lived a life without much room for regrets… You know, because my time was coming. 

And my time did come, except for one important detail: I didn’t really die. I almost did. 

What happened next is too long and sad a story for this letter, so I’ll keep things simple. The virus that sent me to hospital wreaked havoc in my body and left me handicapped for life. Overnight, I was forced to give-up my entire life’s work and passion for dance, for a very frightening clean slate of a future. 

It was devastating, but the terrible news did not end when learning I would remain deaf in one ear for the rest of my life. Repeat life altering diagnosis turned into multi-layered trauma added to existing traumas from my pre-illness life… My health and life became a giant mess.

Honestly, it still is too hard some days, because I haven’t fully designed or even imagined the life I want to create for a future I never thought I was going to experience. Makes sense? I hope so.

But when I look further back than the “accident”… I can see so much life, and despite some traumatic experiences. I’ll tell you my friend… How I’ve lived! 

I tell my husband that if I were to die today, I would die with only two regrets, and those would be to not see my children grow-up and to not see us grow old together. Other than that, I’m satisfied. I know I will die in peace, because I’ve spent a lifetime preparing myself for it and when I flirted with death, it was love that stood out, not regret.

After being ill, when looking at my new state of being, at my now and future, I felt insignificant, living one day at a time, barely surviving. I just couldn’t see what I had to offer to contribute to this world, being unable to sustain the physical efforts required or being untrained in the fields I wanted to work in. My mental health degraded fast and when the relief of death was all I could think about, I finally sought out help from a psychologist with the support of my husband, children, and close friends. 

This is when my thirty years of personal development packed into three started. I meditated multiple times daily. I attended personal transformation seminars, read self-help books, and allowed myself to feel the now instead of escaping it. Until one day, I was able to reach a state of deep peace and gratitude for the growth my near-death experience brought me.

And this, my friend, is when I started to share my story…

And the more I shared it, the more I realised how powerful it was. People’s responses were incredible to witness. Many leaned on it to create significant change in their lives lasting to this day. 

I have since been coaching and inspiring people – especially women – to have the courage and resources to make positive changes in their lives, no matter what hardship comes their way, making adversity a friend, not a foe. This work has become the focus of my readings and research and a deep source of motivation in life.

Finally grounded, life brought back memories of my childhood dreams of becoming an author. I’d already published a small cookbook as well as a guide for young dancers, but never felt like an author as such. The memories came to me in dreams, in random messages from family and friends (close and long-lost) who suddenly felt the urge to reach out and remind me of my dream. It was the strangest and one of the most profound experiences of my life.

Everyone and everything pushed me to write, almost beyond what is reasonable. Life wasn’t subtle in showing me what my life’s work really should be about.

But now I’m listening and answering the call: Here I am. Alex Cownie, the dancing writer. 

My books share the life stories of inspiring women who not only survived the impossible but thrived and shined brighter because of it.

Do you also have a story aching to be told that made you greater than you knew was possible? Please visit the Stories page and apply for Alex to write your story.