Friday, August 16, 2013

On Kindness and its Absence

I just read this powerful article.

It resonated with me, especially now, as I turn over in my mind what makes a person kind. I consider myself quite fortunate, as I've probably encountered two or three people in my adult life that I would describe as truly unkind. That is, lacking a basic compassion and care for others that I've always assumed is present at birth and either expanded or diminished according to one's life experiences.

What I realize now, at almost 38 years old, is that there is a connection between kindness and hardship. Nearly everyone I know has experienced it: loss and its attending grief, illness, emotional pain, disability, health catastrophes, accidents, and the list goes on... For the few (very few) that I've encountered over the years that truly showed little to no compassion, empathy, or even basic kindness, they had one thing in common: they've ambled through their lives with no real bumps in the road. Not that life is perfect for anyone, but these few folks have experienced no traumatic stresses, no real want, no heartache. Their lives have been sheltered from the first, and they have wandered from year to year, unable to relate to other's pain, unable to tap into the depths of their souls that life normally creates as it hands out its hard knocks. Unreal.

Conversely, the kindest people I know are the ones who have suffered the greatest. These folks have been through things that would have left me crushed like a bug on a windshield. And I hate that they've had to endure so much, but I'm also in awe of the light they project, the kindness, the awareness of life outside of themselves. 

So, as we allow our various heartaches to soften into kindness, I offer the words of George Saunders, from the above linked speech: "Who, in your life, do you remember most fondly, with the most undeniable feelings of warmth? Those who were kindest to you, I bet."

Monday, May 13, 2013

May Days

I can finally say that the month of May is not what it used to be. This weekend was my happiest Mother's Day to date, and I'll be silently wishing my Mom a happy birthday on the 18th in a happy-sad way, not a sad-sad way. I can't help but to think back in gratitude to how far I've come from my first Mother's Day--it was both my first as a mom and my first without my mom. What compounded the difficulty was how it was spent: At a Chinese restaurant in Moraga with my in-laws. No one mentioned my Mom. No one addressed the particularly bittersweet day or asked me how I was doing. In short, I gots no love. At the time, I didn't want to come off as me-me-me (that's what a blog is for, right?), and I didn't want to force anyone to acknowledge my pain. So I went, I remained polite, I listened to a speech about what a great day it was for my MIL, (hell, I even fended off a coupla pot-shots regarding my brand new parenting skills!) and I crumpled in an exhausted heap of tears and post-partum sobs when I stepped back onto my own hearth and slammed the door shut in relief. In other words, I held it in rather than bring something up that would ruin that day for others. But would it have ruined the day? How hard would it have been to extend a warm embrace, a few words of encouragement? A squeeze of a hand and a simple "We're here for you, and everything is going to be okay?" Apparently, too hard. Too hard to even try.

So I went to brunch that day, 10 weeks post-partum, maintained my usual quiet/polite public face, walked around the too-sunny shopping center after brunch in a hormonal daze, wondering if it was just me or if people could really be that clueless? I don't know why that particular day remains so clear in my memory, but it was a day in which I learned the strengths I was capable of and the relationships that should (and eventually would) be shed.

Today, I have come into my own. No longer is Mother's Day or my mom's birthday a few days later so heartwrenching. I have taken steps to make sure I am surrounded by those who I can reveal my truest self to and trust that they are my soft place to fall. And having lived this experience, I have been able to comfort those who have faced similar losses, holding their hand and telling them all those things I so desperately needed to hear that first Mother's Day without my Mom. This isn't a memory I think of often, but when May rolls around, I am more grateful than ever that it is firmly in the past.