A friend came to me this afternoon saying they'd had a bad day. I worried for them, and asked them all kinds of questions, and unpicked their answers until I made everything worse. It would have been kinder of me to silently hold the burden of my worries and simply listen, offering tea and some gentle sympathy.
Later, I walked to the grocery store. I was rather tired, so when the checkout operator kindly double-bagged a particularly heavy load for me, without even being asked, it seemed especially wonderful. I decided to tell her supervisor how grateful I was for her good service. But my heart pounded, and my stomach clenched, and all I wanted to do was hurry away without saying a word. Perhaps this is inherent shyness, or else the usual taciturn attitude of my culture - either way, I felt as bad about complimenting a woman's service as I would have done about complaining. I still went ahead, but it wasn't easy.
I wonder how often worry, shyness, or fear stops people from being kind. It's simple enough to say be kind whenever possible, and it is always possible ... but this is a worrying world, and people have fragile hearts, and sometimes being kind feels like reaching with radical trust into a heaving dark storm.
As I get older, I realise how much I need to structure my life in such a way that it provides time, safety, and support for me to be kind to others and myself. This means thinking about the people I have around me, the rhythm of my day, the spiritual path I follow and the values it emphasises. I'm not so interested in freedom (which gets you nothing in the end except a lot of emptiness) or ambition (reaching for worldly goals seems particular unambitious to me) or such popular things. Only love and kindness have any lasting benefit for the soul.
But not cute kindness, you know what I mean? The sort that is espoused in a catchy phrase. I mean dirty-fingernailed kindness ... swallowing-back-fear-but-speaking-anyway kindness ... utterly wild and heartbreaking kindness that will take on the storm. It isn't always easy. That's what makes it worthwhile.
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