Archive for November 19th, 2007

Some topics draw me in right away, there’s no hesitation, no staring at the lines on my page. Not so Kindness. If the topic were Demanding or Disappointment, would it pull me into its loops and swirls, take me down with it, down to the grit behind my elbow?

Ah, elbows and grit and the dirt. The scoop. OK, here’s the scoop. I was lying on my bed after picking up the girls in carpool. I was remembering how compassionate the little Me was, the Me as a girl. How I’d cry when Larry stepped on ants. He did it to make me cry. How I couldn’t bear the thought of an animal dying.

Wondering where it went, how I got so hard. I’m hard-edged, straight-spined. Get over it. Words to live by, to tell others who are in pain to live by. And not that any of it is that cut and dried. I’m not horribly hard, but there is a veneer covering my soft parts.

I wonder if it’s Mom’s ranching sensibilities. Realism. Turkeys get slaughtered. Wooley and Wally, who I named the summer I turned 12, were hauled off to be butchered, but I lay my 63-pound body on the plank the sheep were to walk to get into the trailer. Lay there like those environmentalists who chain themselves to trees. Uncle Pat came and grabbed me, I stayed in repose, folded almost in a back-bend over his arms.

I sobbed, NO, NO, NO, you can’t take my sheep! Grandpa laughed. He wasn’t the kind of gentle white-haired man in a cardigan who would sit me down by a fireplace and tell me about the cycles of life, the food chain, where the meat goes, where the wool goes, how it is in the world. My grandpa wore a cowboy hat and a jean jacket and was missing a fingertip on either hand, lost slaughtering cows. My grandpa would have said, Getouttathere, you’re in the way. He’d have been embarrassed maybe, maybe mad for making him so. Life, this was life, this wasn’t meanness or anything slightly unkind. It just was.

Can ranching culture reside in your DNA, sleep in there like the cancer gene or a propensity to get rheumatoid arthritis? Lie in wait until you hit the age your mother was when you realized she wasn’t all buttons and bows either?

I always wondered, back when I was a teenager, how she could have taken my tom cat, Tiny Roy, to the pound and then claimed all along that he’d run away. How could she have left me crying night after night, praying for Tiny Roy’s return, her knowing all along that he wasn’t coming back?

It’s not just animals. It’s a way of moving forward, getting on with life. What is it, I have to ask myself now. Unkindness? A mean gene? A sense of reality?

Maybe none of the above. Just a moment frozen, like any other.


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A little kindness goes a long way. Simple things. I thought about kindness quite a bit last week when I was visiting with my family in Pennsylvania. The way everyone chips in to help each other in our family. It’s not like that for everyone. I don’t take it for granted.

The family donated money toward a ticket to fly me home for Mom’s 70th birthday. It was a last minute thing. She was completely surprised. The smile on her face said it all; every single penny was worth it.

What’s that saying, when you set your intention, then Providence follows? I can’t remember who said it, but it basically means nothing is impossible. When you set your intention on kindness toward others, the Universe lines up behind you.

I believe in things I can’t see. I believe in kindness. And generosity. And love.

My brother took off of work to drive me 2 1/2 hours to Dulles, both ways, 10 hours of his time and energy on the road. The whole extended family cooked for the birthday gathering. My brother and sister-in-law let me stay at their home the first two days I was there so Mom wouldn’t find out about the surprise.

My sister drove over to Mom’s to visit with me after a long day of work. A younger brother and his wife traveled from Delaware, a long night’s drive for them with my nephew. Everyone adjusted their schedules, gave up time and money, so that everything could come together.

We aren’t a family that talks much about feelings or emotions. There’s a lot of humor, cutting up, and bantering back and forth. But when it comes down to pulling together for family – my family is a winner.

Of course, the independence and resourcefulness we value means we don’t ask for help until things get pretty down and out (not the best emotional strategy). I’m the worst at thinking I can do it all alone. But when I hit hard times a few years ago, and finally got the courage to reach out, they were there. I didn’t have to ask twice. And they didn’t expect anything in return.

True generosity is giving without expecting anything in return. “We’re all family,” they say. “That’s the way you treat family.”

I’m not saying our family is perfect. By no means is that true. We’ve all got our problems, hang-ups, and quirks. We’re much like my sister said in her first comment on red Ravine – a vibrant patchwork quilt that all seems to fit together, no matter the pattern or stitch work, no matter how tattered or worn the cloth.

The whole is stronger than its individual parts. Kindness is the glue. We were taught respect for elders. And politeness. Manners. My brother still opens the car door for me. So did my step-dad when Mom and I were Down South in June. I never thought I’d admit how much I love that they do that.

I remember when I was a fiery young woman in my 20’s: a feminist, angry, wanting equals rights and pay for all women. It was a good cause, creating awareness and change. And I just could not understand when Mom said she still loved to have the car door opened for her, that she valued the feeling of care and respect. To me, chivalry was dead. A way to keep women in their places.

I’m much older now. I finally understand; it’s not about gender. Manners, politeness, altruism, and courtesy toward others are becoming a thing of the past. I recently heard a statistic that Americans are the most generous people in the world when it comes to donating money and giving to charity, yet we’ve jumped the fast track to rudeness, entitlement, rage, and lack of basic kindness toward others.

We’re losing sight of what’s important. Liz and I noticed the grocery clerk was rude to us in the checkout line last night. It was hard to smile at her. To turn the other cheek. What about simply asking if she was okay? Or if she had a hard day.

Maybe we *should* go back to living by clichés and recovery slogans. Keep it simple. Let go and let God. Work harder to be kind.

-posted on red Ravine, Monday, November 19th, 2007


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