Sometimes kindness comes from another person seeing something that has caged us in by offering a different view of the situation.
Years ago, a dear pastor friend Stan Thornburg was listening to me take responsibility for something he didn’t believe was my fault. He couldn’t get through to me, as I continued to carry the blame. Finally, in pure desperation I think, he said,”Suppose I threw you through that window.” I imagined that taking place and wondered what on earth that had to do with my struggle.
“Well,” he said, “I guess I could say you broke the window.” “Yes,” I agreed, still stuck in my way of seeing things.
“Wrong!” he insisted, ” I broke the window; you were just what I used to do it.”
He got through to me with a blunt example, but he gave me a great gift of freedom from unwarranted guilt.
We minister kindness to one another in many different ways. Thanks Stan.
When I was a child, I still believed in Santa Claus and I visited him at Meier and Frank, the big downtown department store. Going downtown was an occasion to dress up, and so I had.
In the recent election, many voters seemed to see our President Elect as a present time Santa, promising an end to many problems, most beyond any one person’s ability to solve.
Today I am feeling compassion for those folks who may find many of their hopes crushed as the country moves forward. As I have written before, there is no going back to a so-called golden age of the United States. Not only will there be massive changes to access to health insurance; there are rumblings about privatizing Medicare. In the good old days there were millions of poor, ill, uninsured citizens, many elderly, in this country. I pray that doesn’t happen again.
When I found out that Santa wasn’t real, I was reassured that the spirit he represented still lived. Compassion, generosity and a listening ear are all available even if Santa isn’t the one providing them. I pray that, when people learn that the promises of the campaign may not prove to benefit them, they not become bitter and disillusioned. May we as a country find a way to meet the deepest wishes of all our citizens without pitting them against each other. When we turn on each other, no one wins.
A few years ago I frequently spotted bumper stickers urging us to practice “random acts of kindness.” I was always irritated at a low level way by the use of the word “random.” I realized that I wanted a bumper sticker that said “practice intentional acts of kindness.” It’s those acts that I have been reflecting on so far in Advent. The intentional things that others have done that have encouraged me throughout my life.I guess it can feel good to do something anonymously, but I have always appreciated the face to face context for kindness shown to me.
I enjoy this picture of me with a younger sibling who is clearly distressed. I seem to be trying to figure out what would help her to cheer her up.
I am reminded of a neighbor of mine when I was a single mother and my child and I were both very ill with a stomach bug. Everett was a widower and already in his late 70’s when we met. After not seeing us for two days, he came over to the house with a bowl of strawberry jello. He said,”I’m not much of a cook, but I thought this would help you feel better.”
An intentional act of kindness.
This is the first day of the new liturgical year and the first day of the season called Advent in the church. It is seen by some as the time to anticipate the birth of Jesus. But, since in my faith Jesus has already been born, it is instead a time to look for Him in the people and situations around us. He has said that whatsoever we do to the least of these we do to Him.
After reading some very disheartened writings from people over the last two weeks, many trying to figure out what they should do with the state of the nation, I pondered an appropriate answer. It came to me as I reflected on the “small” things that people had done for me throughout my life and what enormous impacts they had. And in most of the cases, they never knew. I hope as I write about these occurrences during Advent, people may both remember similar instances in their own lives and also gain appreciation for the power we each have to make a difference in the world.
Grace lived next door to me from when I was three until I was eight. My mother was usually overwhelmed taking care of the younger kids, and I was on my own much of the time. Grace welcomed me into her house any time I wandered over. She gave me Ritz crackers once, and I told her how wonderful they were. We didn’t have snacks at home. Grace kept them in an upper cabinet and got them down each time I came over.
One afternoon, Grace told me she had moved the crackers. She had put them sideways in a lower drawer in the kitchen. I asked her why she had done that, and she replied, “So you can reach them.” That “small” gesture soothed my heart and gave me a sense of being cared for that I can still recall sixty years later.
Here’s to every such person in a child’s life.
Yesterday in church we had a healing Mass where you could go forward for anointing and prayer for healing. You were invited to bring illness, addiction, despair, affliction and burdens for others to be prayed over. At first only a few went forward. As time passed, however, more and more parishioners got in line. In the end, I imagine 75% of the 300 or so people went to be prayed for and anointed.
It is humbling to realize how many around us are in pain and in need of a healing touch. Once, when I was in college waiting for the MTA train in Harvard Square, I was feeling very sad. I was thinking that everyone around me looked happy and I felt very alone in my pain. Then, unbelievably, the girl next to me jumped in front of the train as it pulled into the station. I ran up the down stairs, back into the light, into the arms of the people I had just left. I simply had no idea that other people might be in despair around me. Since that day, I have never been so presumptuous about how other people are doing.
Still, yesterday’s service was a visceral reminder that most of us are burdened. We need to remember that whenever we interact with another person. Some hide with their pain; some lash out, but we are mostly just trying to move through our lives. No one really “has it all together.”