I feel no need for any other faith than my faith in the kindness of human beings. I am so absorbed in the wonder of earth and the life upon it that I cannot think of heaven and angels. – Pearl S. Buck
I am pretty certain Lady Macbeth had it wrong. She was wound pretty tight anyway and, given her agenda, she simply couldn’t have appreciated the merits of kindness, charity and compassion. Human kindness has been on my mind a good deal good deal of late – cultivating kindness, being kind to family and strangers, being kind to myself even. Recently, a caller on a public radio program told a story about when he traveled to India. First though, he decided to spend his Christmas in Thailand. It was 2004. The caller was washed away by that same tsunami we all watched in horror on our televisions. Yet, mercifully, he survived and he was, he said, transformed by the kindness of the Thai people. Even after losing their own homes they offered this man shelter and food. The caller’s story is a fine example of the power of humanity in the face of devastation. “That is a lesson I’d like to share with my children,” I thought, “that acts of kindness are not the sole provenance of those who have the material means to give, but of all who have the spirit of compassion.” In a letter to his nephew, Henry James wrote “Three things in human life are important. The first is to be kind. The second is to be kind. And the third is to be kind.”
So, the holiday season is upon us and it’s a time ripe for acts of kindness. What finer time to teach malleable little minds about kindness and giving, you say? Sweet. Baby. Jesus. Are you mad? This is practically the most devilish time of year to teach Bear and Goose this lesson. It is nigh on a Christmas miracle to win the battle of holiday spirit against the evil Sith Lords of Marketing. Goose began putting things on her wish list months ago. Practically every shiny advertisement elicites an urgent “Mommy, can you put that on my list for Santa?” Try as I might to keep commercials from my sweet babies’ eyes, I am not nearly as vigilant as the Madison Avenue hoards are wily. Lessons about giving, altruism, and kindness are hard pressed to sparkle in the same way as a Pretty Pony Castle in pearlescent cellophane. I haven’t given up though. I’ll fight the good fight.
To that end, I enlisted the help of Dear Hubby. He is a fine human being, though he tends towards cynicism a bit more than I do. I once gave him a tee-shirt that says, I’m a freaking ray of sunshine! He’s no cockeyed optimist, but to his credit, he is a sensitive soul and moved by human stories. He prefers to commit his acts of kindness anonymously though. I know I’m outing him, but I mean this to illustrate one of the reasons I love him. I suppose I tend to be a bit more of a Pollyanna, though I’d like to think I don’t suffer from Pollyannaism. I rely on hope a great deal and a belief in the general goodness of humans. Of course, one’s approach to kindness, whether it be covert-ops style or of the heart-on-one’s-sleeve variety, is not nearly as important as the act of kindness itself. In any case, one evening at the dinner table, Dear Hubby shared a story of kindness he’d heard on the radio. It was a tale of two fighter pilots during WWII, one German and one American. Franz Stigler, the German pilot had reconciled himself to his job, but had also promised himself he would maintain some grip on humanity, even in wartime. In December of 1943, somewhere over Germany, he came upon an American plane, clearly damaged and unlikely to make it. Stigler did not shoot down the plane limping through the clouds. Instead he positioned his own plane on the wing of the other and escorted the American plane as far as he safely could, whereupon he saluted and said they were in God’s hands. Charles Brown, the American pilot, and his crew made it back to England and both pilots lived long lives. It was a moving story. At least I thought it was. This talk of fighter planes incited a barrage of high pitched, rapid fire sound effects from Bear as his chicken nuggets dive bombed his corn. Meanwhile, Goose tried to convince us she was full to the top and ready for dessert though nary a morsel on her plate was disturbed. I worried our parental lessons on kindness might be lost on our progeny.
Granted the tsunami and fighter pilot stories are extraordinary tales of kindness, the likes of which most of us will never experience. But it doesn’t stop me thinking of the sorts of kindnesses we can commit and receive in our more ordinary lives. Goose’s preschool class is collecting diapers and receiving blankets to donate to local shelters. Bear’s school is collecting Toys for Tots. I encourage the kidlets to participate, but I’d also like them to understand that kindness needn’t be tied to a material object or monetary value. Two weeks ago, by way of example, I pledged to commit twenty acts of kindness in the month of December towards 10,000 Acts of Kindness. I’ve been trying to smile more at folks or let them go ahead of me in line at the grocery store. I stopped to offer help to two drivers challenged by the recent snow fall. Those are my small gesture towards kindness this week. Will it help? Will it balloon out? Will my Bear and Goose take note? Will they know that success is better measured by kindness than money? Will they know sometimes kindness doesn’t come naturally, that sometimes it takes patience and fortitude dug from the depths of heretofore unknown well? Will they grow up to be shallow, vapid, unkind materialistic mongers? I mean, how often do they forget to say please and thank you, possibly the simplest acts of kindness possible?! I began to panic a bit. “Great Crying Cranberries on a Christmas Tree,” I thought, “something must be done!”
It turns out, I ought not have worked myself into such a tither. A few nights ago, Bear Boy kindly allowed his sister to crawl into his bed when she was scared, whereupon Goose offered him the use of her teddy bear. “Ah thanks, you just filled my bucket,” Bear responded. The bucket filling reference is a metaphor for being kind to others and goes back to Bear’s first year in preschool. It turns out the sweet little fruit of our loins are learning. Granted the next night Bear put a No Girls Allowed sign on his door. But those quiet little acts of sweetness between my offspring give me hope. Every little bit matters. My little bucket is filled to the tip top with the milk of human kindness.
*Special thanks to these folks who taught me about kindness or filled my bucket in no small measure: CJ, Ann & John, LBJ, Francie, Loretta, the Colapietros, the Allaires, pretty much all of the Wells sisters, the Thea Jambites and L’Arche folk of Tacoma, Bonnie, Bobbie, Rose & Ann, Dar & Mary, Debbie & Mary Lou.