Monday, September 24, 2012

The Only Thing That Matters: Kindness

"I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel." -- Maya Angelou

There is a song that we used to sing when Patrick was a tiny baby.  It's called "Hands" by Jewel and it is a mesmerizing song.  It has a haunting melody and beautiful lyrics that get to the heart of what matters.  Her line that often repeats, like a prayer:

In the end, only kindness matters.

That's it. Six small words and that's all you need to distill all the wisdom of every religion down to a single sentence:
only kindness matters.  

When we were holding fragile, baby Patrick those words became our mantra.  It was all we asked for from each other, all we expected of our kids, all we hoped for the world to give our son who was labeled with "down syndrome", "mental retardation" and assorted other limiting words sprinkled on him only hours after birth. 

And like some sort of slide show, I remember the incredible acts of kindness bestowed in those beginning days.  I remember returning from the hospital to a house still in the ruins of a remodel to a front door that was decorated and welcoming us home.  That loving act of kindness still brings tears for it was the first time that I pondered the idea that Patrick might be welcomed by others...and he was!  I remember a dinner being brought over to my house by a mom I didn't know since Jack was a brand new kindergartener and we were new to our town. Mostly, I remember the bottle of wine she gave if we were celebrating.  And it dawned on me that we could be celebrating, should be celebrating -- instead of being afraid of the unknown.

I remember vividly our gentle, kind parish priest, Father Dan, holding tiny Patrick right outside of church and giving him a blessing and then blessing all of us.  I could feel his grace and his welcoming kindness.

I remember a friend coming into our hospital's Pediatric Cardio Intensive Care Unit with a giant over-sized stuffed puppy that was also named Patrick.  Seeing that giant puppy given from my hard-working friend in her business suit made me believe that someday our Patrick might be climbing all over that silly guy and having fun...outside of hospital walls and hard times.

In the end, only kindness matters.

And no, it's not just in the intense dark days that this matters.  Kindness matters every single day. It is the extra deep breath and calm reaction to whatever mishap in the kitchen has occurred -- the proverbial spilled milk.  It is the extra thirty seconds of listening to someone speak, really listening.  It is the way we say goodnight and the way we say good morning to those who share our space.  It is the smile of recognition and welcome for someone who's new.  It is the caring text, checking in.  It is the phone call, the dinner served, the extra kid who tags along because he needs a ride too.  It's our reaction when our spouse says he's got to go out of town, yet again.

You see, I'm not writing this to tell you I'm doing all this.  I'm writing to remind myself.  To remember what it feels like to receive such kindness and by remembering trying to live it.  It's a process and a slow one...but that song still rings true today.  Perhaps the words are even more important today.

Piggybacking onto Jewel's song is this of my all time favorites.
It, too, serves as a daily reminder for me.

by Naomi Shihab Nye

Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things, feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the
Indian in a white poncho lies dead
by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you, how he too was someone who journeyed through the night
with plans and the simple breath
that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness
as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow
as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness
that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day
to mail letters and purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
it is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you every where
like a shadow or a friend.

So, it is with kindness that I send this out to you...hoping the ripples will make their way into some space within you that needs a bit of kindness...hoping that those ripples will continue to find others who need a dash of kindness like they need a spot of tea.   That this kindness can be the way we treat each other, including those that we love most and those we don't even know. The "size of the cloth" is pretty big, and it is the only thing that makes sense.

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