I was talking to my daughter Em recently about how she was at a Wal-Mart in Georgia and a woman dropped some stuff and how Em helped the woman pick up her things.
Em wasn’t looking for praise and good-person-pats-on-the-back, she was confused by how other people chose not to help that lady.
For Em, her instinct was to help and to be kind.
But it wasn’t that way for the other people who were there.
At the grocery store in Maine that same day, Shaun (my husband) was in line and a lady had pushed her cart right within an inch of his legs. He backed up an inch to get a better angle to get something out of our cart, hit her cart and immediately apologized. His instinct was to apologize for something that wasn’t his fault.
I have trained him well.
Just kidding! Just kidding!
But the woman acted like it was his fault that her cart was in his space. And then… his instinctive kindness fluttered right away.
When I looked at the lines in the store, I was amazed by how many people seemed so sad or angry, frustrated or anxious. Few people smiled. Most people actively frowned. A lot complained. They were miserable and sure, some of them probably had reasons to be, but all of them?
So many of us are so lucky. We get to have electricity and phones and indoor plumbing. We have problems, too, obviously. People get sick. People have depression or anxiety. Our friends die. Our kids get in trouble. But we also have so much.
We focus so much on the evil though, just slip into that mindset of ‘everything sucks’ that we sometimes forget the good.
That world of evil and misery is not the world I want to live in and it’s not the world I want everyone else to live in either.
There’s a theory out there that a lot of us are unhappy, anxious, uneasy, depressed because we want to find meaning in life and finding meaning? That can be pretty damn hard.
We find religion and go to therapy and the gym in the hopes of finding salvation – emotional, spiritual, phsycial. We convert to different ways of thinking, believing, acting in the hopes that… that what? That we get meaning. That we feel better. That we live better.
Even the stories we write, we’re told by editors and agents and teachers, “Let’s see how that character changes and grows. Or how that character digresses. Bring that character to a new place of self awareness, to a new self.”
It’s all so tremendously linear. The growth of a person or book character is condensed to simple steps, actions forward.
But are people like that? Do we work like that?
That’s where some of the disconnect comes in. When we do evolve, we don’t always evolve in a straight line. When we look for meaning, it isn’t always found after a simple pattern of forward steps.
The people who intrigue me are the people who just live. They live kindly, help others, and are just… they are beautiful. Their instinct is to be kind and they don’t even lose it after it’s met with anger or fear. They actually cultivate the kindness.
There were some teens like this where I was on Saturday.
My local YWCA has a holiday bazaar where kids go around with volunteers to buy presents for their family. Volunteers act as store keepers at “stores” where items go for .25 to $5 (or so). Every kid has an escort that takes them around to these store tables loaded down with donated items. The escort is usually a volunteer from the local high school. More volunteers wrap the presents.
It’s pretty adorable.
The best part is watching the high school kids interact with the younger kids. All these kids are obviously awesome because they are sacrificing their Saturday morning to volunteer, but there was this one kid who totally stood out to me and this wasn’t just because he was wearing a sleeveless Celtics t-shirt jersey when it was 9-degrees-Farenheit.
Nah, Mike impressed me because he broke my stereotypes about bros in sleeveless jerseys. He was on the younger side of high school volunteers, but he was so amazingly wise or patient.
“Would your gram like this?” he’d ask the boy he was assigned to, picking up a set of bird mugs.
The boy would stare at the mugs for about one minute, absolutely blankly. Then, he’d turn away. Mike didn’t even flinch. His tone and demeanor didn’t change.
They’d move on to another item.
Then another item.
Mike never groaned. Mike never rolled his eyes. Mike was just… He was patient and awesome and kind, so kind.
“I love him,” said one of the adult volunteers who’d walked through the frigid weather to the Y so that she could volunteer this morning.
“I would like to marry him,” another lady said, “you know if I was 70 years younger.”
Mike wasn’t the only one who was awesome. There were students volunteering who were wiping phlegm of their temporary wards off their hands, and doing it so discreetly so they wouldn’t hurt the kids’ feelings. There were students carrying more than their weight in presents as the followed their charges scrambling through a maze of volunteers and tables laden with gifts all donated by local people and merchants.
And right then, I realized that I wanted kindness to be my religion just like the Dalai Lama said. I wanted that to be the default choice in my life: the choice of kindness.
For that kid, for Em, for Shaun – their initial choice is to be kindness. Humanity might crush that kindness away sometimes, but that’s their instinct, their true natures. Of course, they’re going to mess up. They’re human. I’m going to mess up. I’m human. But I’m going to actively choose kindness even as I fight against the things that I think are evil.
Kindness might not be a direct shot to meaning and decreased anxiety, but I really think that they are linked. The more times you can be kind, that you can give, that you can lift people up instead of smashing them down – helps.
There is meaning in goodness.
There is meaning in us.
Writing and Other News
I do art stuff. You can find it and buy a print here.
People call it a cross between Harry Potter and Percy Jackson but it’s set in Maine. It’s full of adventure, quirkiness and heart.
The Spy Who Played Baseball is a picture book biography about Moe Berg. And… there’s a movie out now about Moe Berg, a major league baseball player who became a spy. How cool is that?
It’s awesome and quirky and fun.
FLYING AND ENHANCED
Men in Black meet Buffy the Vampire Slayer? You know it. You can buy them hereor anywhere.
OUR PODCAST – DOGS ARE SMARTER THAN PEOPLE.
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