When I was a kid, my family decided to pitch their tent in a quiet little town just a few miles north of Georgia’s southern border… and up there in North Augusta, South Carolina, I quickly befriended two neighborhood kids, who were siblings: Jacob and Rachel.
We got along nicely and went on all kinds of small-scale adventures together… picking our way through the twig-and-tadpole woods that encircled our little suburb, skipping to the gas station down the street (where they sold the COOLEST alien lollipops), and sneaking behind the subdivision to explore this creepy, overgrown field that both frightened and intrigued us. It was here in this field that older kids in the neighborhood had stashed a gross-looking mattress, sticking it right underneath a lush and looming tree… I’m not sure what the older kids used it for, but Jacob, Rachel and I would take turns climbing the tree and then courageously jumping off it, laughing hysterically as we bounced onto and off of the soiled mattress. We felt like real badasses back then.
But in addition to acting like badasses, Jacob and Rachel were also kind of jackasses.
A young cousin visited them once, riding into town with her parents, and while I can’t remember the girl’s name, I can vividly recall her scent. It was genuinely horrific. I don’t know if it was biological in nature or if her parents simply weren’t badgering her to bathe yet, but she gave off a distinctly rancid odor, and Jacob and Rachel were just cruel about it.
“We aren’t going to hang out with her,” Rachel informed me as we were standing by the mailbox together. I turned to look over at my two friends’ front door, quickly spotting their petite and shy cousin peeking at us from behind it.
I felt terrible. Ostracizing the smelly little girl didn’t feel like the right thing to do — and the idea of blatantly ignoring her while we had our usual fun physically made me feel bad.
And while I don’t know how I phrased it (because I was like six), I do remember telling my friends off, preparing a picnic out in my front yard, and then inviting the smelly cousin over to dine with me. Jacob and Rachel were openly disgusted, and I think they felt a little betrayed (because they weren’t allowed to join us), but Smelly and I had a delightful time together, anyways. Looking back on it, I think that we had vegetarian deli-“meat” sandwiches (and that I possibly accidentally ate a bug while I was chewing on mine), but I can definitely remember biting into a sweet, red apple and feeling really, really good about it.
As an adult, I was once again warmed by the innate reward of kindness yesterday morning.
I was leaving Urban Standard after a few hours of studying when I noticed a homeless guy tucked into the dark inlet of an abandoned storefront. Our eyes met briefly, and a thought occurred to me just before I passed him.
“Hey — do you like chocolate?”
“Yeah,” he said.
“K… then hang on a sec.” Sliding my backpack off of my left shoulder, I knelt down, knees touching the concrete, to investigate its contents… and after a few awkward seconds, I found it: the plastic-wrapped, heart-shaped box my sweet HR department had gifted each employee with a few days before.
“I’m particularly excited about the orange creme flavor!” I’d thanked them via email, but I hadn’t actually opened the box yet, preferring to save it so that I could ‘look forward’ to it.
“Heeeeeere we go — happy LATE Valentine’s Day!” I laughed, handing it over to the guy.
He accepted the box gently, chuckling back at me. He had a very beautiful smile.
And it was just so nice to share the chocolate with someone. I enjoyed sharing it more than I would have enjoyed eating it! The good feeling that followed reminded me of a late-summer afternoon — enjoying a crisp apple alongside a smelly little girl; the vibrant green grass tickling our ankles, and the bright orange sunshine warming our faces…
On days when I’m feeling down, the easiest way to reframe my world view is to get outside of my own head, as it can sometimes steel itself into a sort of prison.
We inhabit these bodies and live in these minds — with their fiction and reality — constantly, rarely pausing to imagine the thoughts, longings, plights and ailments of others… but when you take just a minute to do so — to remember that the pain or anger or loneliness you’re experiencing right now is being felt by many — you don’t feel quite as alone, or misunderstood, or enraged. You suddenly feel this sense of community and this compulsion to practice compassion and you realize – or re-realize – that we’re all just doing the best we can to be happy… to become better and stronger people than we were yesterday, to be kinder to others than they have been to us, and to strike notes that sound increasingly more in-tune with our truest selves. Being kind to and gentle with others is, perhaps, the very best way of showing kindness to yourself.
And here’s a parting thought (which is not an original one — I ran across it pretty recently in an article or book that I can’t remember the name of):
Every word we speak, action we take, and decision we make brings us into greater harmony with our true selves or places us more at odds with ourselves.
And that makes sense, doesn’t it? Kindness is intuitive, really… your gut will quickly tell you – in any given situation – whether you’re being kind or unkind. Going back in time just a little, imagining myself walking past the homeless man with the box of chocolates still in my backpack feels BAD. It would have clearly been the wrong decision. And conversely-speaking, I knew, the very second I saw him, what the right decision was.
You can’t “save” everyone, of course, but when you’ve got an extra box of chocolates lying around, why not share the love? Your gut instinct, or intuition, is an excellent, inherent, and trustworthy guide for good decision-making…
For instance: Earlier today, when a cute boy asked me to grab coffee with him tomorrow morning, my intuition immediately answered yes. Yes, yes, yes.
Still here (and with kind regards),