The word kindness keeps following me like the unshakable scent of a lilac bush in summer.
It is perhaps no coincidence since I am writng this on Father’s Day, thinking of my late father, Charlie, one of the kindest persons I’ve ever known. Bank tellers, supermarket cashiers and auto shop mechanics knew him by name. It wasn’t because he was a gregarious fellow — he was quiet and unassuming. It was because he was kind and respectful to everyone he met.
My dance with kindness began a few weeks ago when my dear friend, Boston poet Lisa Breger, gave me James Crews’ superb new book, Kindness Will Save The World. It is a journal of both the random and intentional acts of kindness he has experienced. Many times, a simple act of caring rescued him from a bout of depression or period of self-doubt.
There is the friend who travels up Crews’ snowy Vermont driveway to deliver homemade cookies warm from the oven on a day he thinks he can’t take another minute of winter.
There’s the Whole Foods cashier who lifts his mood when she thanks him for coming to her register, asks him about his day, and carefully arranges the items in his grocery bag.
“Mindfulness has two wings,” Crews writes. “One is being in the moment, and the other is kindness.”
Crews speaks also of our need for self-caring. He recalls the days when his father was in a hospital dying. He would slip away by himself to a cafeteria and order a steaming bowl of white chicken chili, his lone comfort.
When I accompanied a friend last Sunday morning to a service at her Mennonite church, the sermon was about — you guessed — “Love is patient, love is kind ….” from St. Paul’s epistle to the Corinthians.
The pastor told the story of an admissions dean at Johns Hopkins University Medical School, who during the interview process, would note how applicants treated staff not involved in the admissions decision. In other words, were they kind to people from whom they had nothing to gain?
Later in the afternoon, I attended the annual “Ten-Minute Play Festival” in the community where I live. In one of the plays, a young man interviewing for an IT position engages in conversation with an elderly woman in a company’s waiting room. He assumes she is competing for the same job and scoffs at her for daring to apply for a position better suited to a tech-savvy young person, like him.
The old woman turns out to be the owner of the company, the person who decides if he gets the job.
I suppose the moral of both stories is that kindness comes with dividends. Life dividends.
Perhaps my brushes with the theme of kindness were due to the fact that I needed a lift after a week of so much disturbing news. Our world seems to be suffering from a pandemic of meanness far more virulent than any virus. Just think of the tragedy of those 78 women and children who perished when their boat overloaded with refugees capsized off the coast of Greece. As many as 500 of the refugees remain missing. This, despite repeated calls from people on the boat for help.
In our own country, you have the spectacle of a former president spewing venom daily, vowing to take revenge on his enemies. Meanwhile, a Justice Department report on the Minneapolis Police Department reveals widespread injustice in the way people of color have been treated in that city as well as rampant use of excessive force.
Equally disheartening are the protests outside Gay Pride events. One of these demonstrations took place during a Pride Mass at Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Washington D.C, which was my parish when I lived in D.C. It is the parish of two of my closest friends, two of the kindest men anyone can know, who just happen to be gay.
The headline on a Washington Post column about the protest captures our national hardening of the heart: “Pride Backlash Targets Catholics Who Are Trying To Be More Like Jesus.”
In his sermon last Sunday, the pastor at the Mennonite church recalled that the words kind and kin have the same root. We are all of one kind. We are all kin. Or as the pastor noted, “You and me are we.”
As we enter this new week, may we search for what we have in common, rather than what we think divides us into groups of ‘us and them.’ If there is an opportunity to be kind to someone when no one is watching, when we have nothing to gain from it, then let’s do it!
For me, it will also be a way of honoring the legacy of kindness left by my father.