Capacity for Kindness

Observing

About eight years ago, I was out of town, attending to a truly dreadful business. I won’t go into detail, because it is not my story to share, but it was a thick, wrenching business involving nastiness and lawyers and vulnerable children. It was multi-layered: some of the “good guys” weren’t all that good, and the family I was attending to was perforated by grief and stress coming from many, many angles. It was basically a hell lasagna. I don’t know if any of the other participants remember it this way, but I do.

My daughter was at home during this time. This was good: I would not wish that experience on anyone. But she was my talisman, and I was alone without her.

I went to return home after my day in court, before hearing the outcome. I didn’t have my driver’s licence, yet (late bloomer), so I made my way down to the station. When I went to pay for my ticket, it was $7 more than I had anticipated, because I had neglected to book a day in advance. I didn’t have that $7.

In retrospect, this was not a crisis: there are a hundred ways I could have traveled the next day, or the day after that. No one would have died. But at the time, I was so desperate to get home. I needed to remove myself from the days of ugliness I had just waded through, and I needed my island and my family as much as I have ever needed anything.

All of this must have shown on my face, because the woman behind the counter got her purse out and rang in the ticket, paying the extra $7 herself.

She did not know me, and
she did not have any idea what my week had been, and
she did not know why I needed to catch that bus, but
she handed me my ticket.

I tried to make an offer of repayment, but she shrugged, and just said, “just pay it forward.”

I was halfway out the door when I thanked her, but my voice was already breaking. I cried all the way to fucking Nanaimo. I cried again when I got home.

I still can’t actually tell this story without crying: I have cried just typing it out. And then I cried again, when I had to explain why I was crying to the concerned person who accidentally walked in on my typing.

I tell this story a lot for a lot of reasons. I tell it because it is my own reminder that this gentle debt is never repaid – it is something I have the privilege of paying forward every time my circumstances allow.

I also tell this story to let you know that although there will be times when your generosity is taken for granted, there will also be times when you elevate someone who is so desperately struggling – and you will simply never know how you helped them cross a chasm. Please don’t be discouraged. Kindness is easy: find fundraisers for people unable to make their rent, and always seek out the most marginalized. If your own cupboards are bare, you still have the capacity to be generous with your words and deeds. Throw them like seeds in the most barren soil, even though you will never know what might take root. Throw these seeds sincerely, knowing that whatever grows will never be yours to harvest.

If there are times when you have nothing left for anyone else, that’s OK, too. I hope that there will be hands to lift you up.

I didn’t even send that woman at the station a thank you card. It is something I regret, but I try to let that be part of my lesson. I hope I do justice to her gift to me.

Anticipate

Observing, Uncategorized

Sometimes, I can feel the sun, before it rises. I can feel the clearness of the morning skies on a cellular level, like trumpeters announcing with fanfare an approaching Queen. THE approaching Queen. Here in the Pacific Northwest, we have been swimming in grey for weeks, and now I feel like dancing.

I did dance, this morning. I put on highly inappropriate music and bounced around my living room, around my bathroom. I danced in front of my aging reflection, and mouthed words of welcome to the spring. Toothpaste went everywhere, because: multitasking. 

Last year, around this time, I walked to the ocean just before dawn. I sat on the sandstone formations that make up McFarlane Beach, and waited for the light. It came, but not as I expected: it was not a silver thread spreading where the mountains touched the lightening sky. It was more the drawing down a curtain. The sun washed from the treetops down to where I sat on the rock. At that moment, I really did feel a part of everything. I am reluctant to name god/dess, but in that moment, I felt profound evidence that this blissful light that touches everything, touches me, too (and conversely, the light that touches me touches everything else).

Isn’t this the closest thing to being in love? This anticipation and expansion? This soft, soft air like a whispered kiss on our skin? 

It is so easy to contract in winter’s fallow, to forget that spring could not be held back, even if we tried.  Let us all be like apple trees, preparing to bloom.

On beginning

Observing

This is kind of awkward, you guys. I feel like we’re going to get extremely personal in short order. Because, like dating, writing is rife with intimacy. It’s kind of the whole point.

I am better at the latter. My first husband¹ fell in love with my words: we exchanged letters overseas, written on paper and sent snailing though the mail, twice a month, then every week. We carried on like this for a year and a half, exchanging bad jokes and mundane observations, dream interpretations, and something about the tomatoes in Greece².  When I returned home, we moved in together and married in short order. For a time, our words were magic.

In contrast, the entirety of my dating history is an unqualified disaster, threaded, as it is, inextricably with early alcoholism. I threw up on shoes, you guys. There was nothing pretty about it.

Distance matters. Keyboards and paint cans are infinitely easier than the complex humans and their soft, mortal bodies. And if I have some trepidation about all of this sharing without the cloak of anonymity, I have also promised my words that I will give them a space to take flight. Not all of them will do so: some will fail comically (you can skip over those ones), and others will never leave the nest of my throat. But I will have made space.

¹ Also only husband so far. Poetic licence, you guys. Poetic licence.

² Why are they so much tastier in Greece? Which deity is in charge of tomatoes, and are they accepting new devotees? Isn’t it a little unfair that Greece gets to be the birthplace of Western Civilization AND the capital of supernaturally delicious Solanum lycopersicum?