My neighborhood has been having a rough time. Several people who we love have recently passed away. It seems that in times of tragedy and death I find myself contemplating big questions: the importance and shortness of life, why life seems to be so hard, the value of a person’s presence, just to name a few. One of the questions that immediately comes up for me is – when it’s the headstone on my grave, what will the epitaph say? I don’t want it to say, “Mom was bossy” “everything had to be perfect” or maybe even “she liked shoes”. I want to live a life summed up with “Brigit was loving and kind”.
As I watch my neighbors drop everything to attend to the needs of those grieving, I am humbled as I realize I am watching the actions of love and genuine kindness. These are people who give without any thought of getting something in return. Amazingly, though, they do get something back, for kindness soothes the weary soul and brightens the heart of both the giver and the recipient. Being kind softens and strengthens us all.
We all remember times when someone extended a tender mercy and the warmth and love that resulted, and feel grateful appreciation for kindness as the world around us becomes more crass and unfeeling. I remember a time in my youth when a tender mercy was extended to me: I accidently broke a school window while practicing my tennis swing when I was about 8 years old. No one saw me do it, and I went home in a panic wondering what to do. I didn’t tell anyone, but my wise parents could tell something was wrong. They asked me what happened, and I confessed through guilty sobs. They told me I had to do the right thing – I had to go speak with Mr. Marchant, the principal, and make it right. I was scared to death, but I did it. I went to the office the next school day, expecting the worst – maybe jail - and confessed my sin. Mr Marchant listened compassionately, and said, “I think if you could give us $2 we can replace that window”. I couldn’t believe it – that window cost only $2.00?? It was the biggest relief of my young life. It wasn’t until much later that I realized that the $2 was for my benefit. It was so I could feel good about my effort of restitution. I will always remember that kindness.
Sometimes being kind comes naturally, and other times it’s an effort. It’s easy to serve a sweet person we love, but what about those who challenge us? Some can be hard to love, and often resist our attempts to be kind. A certain Facebook post recently caught my eye: “Hurt people hurt people”. A short and simple phrase that speaks volumes. Every person we encounter is dealing with something hard, something we can’t see. Being aware of that can help us feel a sense of compassion for those with whom we struggle. Genuine kindness comes from the heart, and is able to put judgments aside, connecting hearts together. I remember a song from childhood, “Kindness Begins with Me”. Could you imagine what our community would be like if everyone lived by the simple words of this song? Love and genuine kindness, sprinkled with a healthy dose of patience, can bring down walls of isolation and soften the hardest of hearts.
My neighbors and I are healing, and in large part it’s because of the love and tenderness that is being extended. People we love have left us, and while we will always feel their absence, we remember that those who are left behind are in need of compassionate service and love. We also see that each of us need each other. Life is short. Leave people better than when you found them. Love your friends and family members as they are, while gently encouraging them to be their best version of themselves. Everyone, including you, will benefit in ways that can’t be measured, and that is the wonderful magic of kindness.