Strength and Kindness
I have been thinking about selfishness a lot, lately. I accept that I can be incredibly selfish. I am selfish with my time, mostly. I want to do things I want to do with my time. I want to spend it my own way. Perhaps, we all have a degree of selfishness in us when it comes to that. But I also care deeply about people. I used to joke that nice was not a term used to describe me. My mother insisted that wasn't true but I argued it was. I don't know if I thought that there was something weak about being nice and I wanted to be strong and stand up for myself or if I didn't recognize all the ways that niceness manifests. For example, I remember standing up for the kid in my class who was picked last in kickball. I defended my friend Tabitha when boys called her names on the playground. I saw myself as a protector of those who felt alone and scared and I challenged anyone who tried to push me or others around. There seemed to be a kind of filter for those I let into this circle. If you were on the outside of it, I was probably mean, maybe because you were mean first but also because I didn't know you. I was incredibly protective of my friends and myself.
What I've come to learn is that kindness and compassion matter, too. And that kindness is really about doing something that you expect no credit or recognition for; it's about considering others not just yourself. The transition for M and I, living apart has been full of challenges. The kindness we've experienced, however has been life-changing for me. And I'm noticing a significant shift in my own thinking. I grumble sometimes when M, one of the kindest people I know, agrees to do something nice for someone which usually means I end up doing something nice, too. She constantly thinks of others and has the greatest sense of compassion I've ever seen. But even she has those selfish moments, those pangs of neediness for someone to be kind to her. I think it hurts her even more than it angers me when they aren't.
I learned early in my life that people in the world can be cruel and violent and that there is not always a reason for things that happen. But loving M has shown me how kind and generous and yes, nice, people can be, too. While I am still protective with my time and I try to make decisions that give me enough breathing room and quiet to feed my inner self, I recognize the joy in kindness. When the meter reader doesn't give you a ticket when your meter runs out and so you feed the meter next to you or when someone holds a door open as you rush in from the ran without an umbrella, the whole day seems to turn around.
You can tell when you meet people who don't have enough kindness in their lives. And they are often angry and resentful and feel like the entire world is against them. What I am learning is that kindness matters, not only because being kind benefits others who go on to benefit others and there's a whole chain reaction of kindness like those insurance commercials, but it also benefits the kind giver. You cannot expect anything in return, however, and I think that is what changes your way of thinking and makes people want to be around you and know you.
My mother is incredibly kind, sometimes overwhelmingly so. I often thought she didn't do enough for herself. But maybe I had it wrong. Maybe being kind was the something she did for herself. There is a strength in her that erupts from this kindness, one I never saw until now. It is the same strength I see in M, the one underneath the humor and silliness and joy at life, itself.
I have always admired women like my grandmother whose strength and conviction was at her surface. Her toughness exuded from her. She survived and thrived in the male-dominated world of medicine. She kept things moving in her life at home, raising my father, loving my grandfather. She had a career and a home in a time when many women did not. The strength she exudes today is more gentle and sweet. She slips more and more each day into somewhere else. Her strength is displayed now by simply surviving. She lives, confused and out of reality but she lives and moves and sits and thinks and wonders and dreams. She is not the woman I knew as a child but she is just as strong. When my mother sits with her, kindness flows between them in unspoken but significant ways. I know the sacrifice it has taken my parents to look after her, but from the depths of my heart, I am grateful for it.
Just like there is strength in being open and vulnerable, I believe there is strength in being kind. Last week showed me just how much this is true because so many people I know, people who read me here and on Facebook, sent messages that mattered, thought positive things for us and what felt like an incredibly twisted knot has begun to loosen so that we can see the ways to untie it. That kindness is immensely appreciated and I want you to know it mattered. Thank you.
I've had this quote from the Dalai Lama in my mind all week: