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Living in Kindness

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

My first real job was working as holiday help at a new age supply store called Glyphx in the now demolished, but once thriving Cottonwood Mall off Highland Drive. For 20 hours a week, I rearranged ceremonial candles and shrink wrapped packs of tarot cards with a self-proclaimed white witch named Laura who occasionally sucked on the healing crystals we kept in a large, segmented plastic bin in the center of the store. She claimed to be absorbing the healing power of the crystals by sucking on them. Once she had got whatever she felt she needed from them, she put them back in the bin, unwashed.

FYI, this was way before flu shots were popular.

A hypochondriac of the first order, I was, needless to say, horrified by Laura’s crystal sucking habit and she quickly picked up on that. One slow, snowy evening she spat an amethyst out into the palm of her hand, slid it back into the crystal bin and said, “this totally freaks you out, huh?”

I admitted that it did and that I was also concerned she was going to get sick and get other people sick in the process.

She laughed and told me that illness was an unavoidable part of being alive. 
I wondered why she worked so hard at it.
She said felt stronger being connected to the people, spiritually. 
To which, I judgmentally rolled my eyes and said, “I don’t think “the people” want to be connected to you through the flu.”

Picking up on my oh so subtle judgmental attitude, she got defensive and said something along the lines of,”Of course you wouldn’t get it. This is spirit medicine and because you won’t accept that you belong to the people, who are totally real by the way, you’ll never be happy,” a character trait and fate she also attributed to my zodiac sun sign and some unfortunate placement of the the planet Saturn in my astrological chart.

Regardless of its origin, Laura had hit on a sore spot for me. I had recently moved from Chicago to Sandy where I was having a lot of trouble finding my place in my neighborhood and school. I had moved at a time when children seem to be a their least kind: the end of middle school and the beginning of high school. I had also moved at the apex of one of my most disastrous hair moments, a David Bowie-esque mullet, accompanied by thick, red glasses, and braces. I was an easy target for my peers. Steeped in the unkindness of my peers, I had started to really believe I would never be happy, in part because I felt like I would never fit in anywhere.

Wisdom sometimes comes to us from inconsistent and unexpected sources… occasionally in unflattering ways. Hurt feelings and shoddy public health theories aside, Laura revealed a profound truth: we belong with the people we are with in any situation, whether we liked it or not. We affect one another’s health, happiness, and general well-being. We are responsible for one another. We make choices about how we accept that responsibility.

In her own way, she had echoed Mother Teresa, the Catholic nun who dedicated her life to trying to eradicate poverty, who once said, “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten we belong to each other,” which I take to mean, when we forget to meet the responsibility of being in community with one another with an open heart, we create conflict. We try to control and dominate one another. We are afraid. We lose touch.

Kindness puts the world back into perspective because it returns us to one another. 
Kindness aligns our actions with our best intentions. It helps us do the right thing. Take six year old Alex from New York who, after seeing an image of five-year old Omran Daqneesh, alone, stunned and blood-covered after his home in Aleppo, Syria was bombed, was moved to write President Obama a letter.

Alex was moved by kindness to seek help and to open his life to another child in need. He knew that to be kind is a way of assuring another that “You matter. You belong.”

Belonging to one another is embedded in kindness; it is deep in the roots of the word.

Kind is both an adjective and a noun. 
To be kind means to be “of a good or benevolent nature or disposition,” to be gentle, considerate, helpful, and humane, like Alex.
To be of a kind implies that one is in a “class or group of individual objects, people, animals, etc., of the same nature or character, or classified together because they have traits in common.” Alex recognized Omran as the same kind of kid as himself. 
Kindness is an attitude that welcomes another into your fold. Kindness is relational. It expands your world.

I wish that I could say I have lived my life with Alex-grade intensity kindness, but that would be a lie. I mess up; I get grouchy; I am prone to road rage; I get swept up in the drama of elections. I am human. I can tell you that I regret every decision I have made out of anger, boredom, indifference, or disgust, but I have never regretted a decision I made out of kindness, even if it was inconvenient, cost me money, made me late, or pushed me beyond my comfort zone.

When we filled the outline of our hands with our best character traits on First Friday, I put “kindness” in the thumb, because the thumb can touch all of the other fingers and when kindness meets my love of learning, my sense of social responsibility, my bravery, or my humor, I know that I am in the service of what matter most to me: connection, understanding, and inclusion.

I think a lot about kindness at this time of the year, because my son was born right around now. Three years ago, I was in the last days of my pregnancy and afloat on a raft of kindness. Neighbors brought me mail and baked goods. Friends and coworkers filled my freezer with meals. Strangers opened doors and carried my groceries. People wished me well everywhere I went. I thought and still think, we should all treat each other like this, every day. I also thought of Laura, who, it turned out, was sucking on rocks in part because, we later found out, she was pregnant, mineral deficient and badly in need of prenatal care she couldn’t afford and didn’t know how to get. Her body was legitimately trying to get nutrients from those rocks. I was too young to really know how to help her back then, but when I found out, I bought her a sleeve of cinnamon roasted almonds from the kiosk outside the store, made sure she had enough water to drink and a place to sit down, even though we weren’t supposed to sit on the job. To be kind doesn’t mean you have to solve everyone’s problems, but it does mean you recognize their struggles and triumphs and that you choose to be with them, to ease their burden or share in their joy in whatever way you can.

When I held my son for the first time, I was shocked by his fragility. I thought of an observation by feminist theorist Donna Haraway that “life is a window of vulnerability,” and was terrified for him, and then grateful that his life, all two hours of it at that point, had been awash in love and kindness. My wish for him was that he would, above all else, be kind because in the window of vulnerability that is life, kindness is essential; kindness grants dignity to those living with you, who are deeply loved by someone and worthy of belonging. My wish for him is the same for you: be kind.

We are one another’s responsibility. Whether you like it or not, you are as much in the care and keeping of your family, friends, teachers, strangers, and even enemies as they are in yours. Be brave. Belong to one another fiercely. Live in kindness.

Thank you.