Each year I try to select one word to “live up to”… something to remind me of my higher aspirations. Many years the word has been “kindness”. It’s lofty and persistently necessary to be reminded of, it seems . I had such a reminder on the subway this week; I entered and sat in front of a man who had on a leather jacket and a hard hat… not remarkable – until, as the train began to move, he began loudly shouting random syllables. You encounter this on trains – people living with difficult invisible realities. He would go 3 or 4 minutes being silent, and then a random syllable or two at top volume. Other riders peeked sideways at him and then returned to their I phones. I couldn’t see him directly, but certainly heard him and wondered. A few stops later, a tattered homeless man entered with a ragged cardboard sign, “Homeless vet, please help”. He started at the back of the car, making his silent way forward, showing his sign to each of us – and each of us shaking our heads, saying “sorry”. He went the whole length of the car and no-one offered him any money. UNTIL – the man behind me, slowly stood up, worked his way to the front of the car and handed the homeless man a coin. Though I know there are many valid reasons NOT to give money to people asking for it, I also know that I witnessed an act of kindness that morning on the subway. I had a lump in my throat. Kindness does not have a price except for the toll it takes on our own soul when we decide not to be kind.
Here is a poem by Mary Oliver about another kind of kindness…
In the Storm
Some black ducks were shrugged up on the shore. It was snowing
hard, from the east, and the sea was in disorder. Then some sanderlings,
five inches long with beaks like wire, flew in, snowflakes on their backs,
and settled in a row behind the ducks -- whose backs were also
covered with snow -- so close they were all but touching, they were all but under
the roof of the duck's tails, so the wind, pretty much, blew over them. They stayed that way, motionless,
for maybe an hour, then the sanderlings, each a handful of feathers, shifted, and were blown away
out over the water which was still raging. But, somehow, they came back
and again the ducks, like a feathered hedge, let them crouch there, and live.
If someone you didn't know told you this, as I am telling you this, would you believe it?
Belief isn't always easy. But this much I have learned -- if not enough else -- to live with my eyes open.
I know what everyone wants is a miracle. This wasn't a miracle. Unless, of course, kindness --
as now and again some rare person has suggested -- is a miracle. As surely it is.
~ Mary Oliver ~