Jane LaFazio is a watercolor- and mixed media artist whom I admire a lot. I’m taking an online class from her right now, because I love her style and need some deep-rooted inspiration. What I get from Jane is that everything she does comes from her heart. She knows how to make meaning out of a turnip.
Jane invited me to join the Kindness Project. On the first Sunday of the month, (Jane asked me when my Sunday post was already up, so don’t adjust your calendar) you post a few of the kind things you’ve done since last month. Sort of like an examination of conscience (do Catholics still do that? It’s been a long time since 7th grade), but for kindnesses you have done.
I love the idea. Kindness is not easy, and it doesn’t come naturally to everyone. But when you start to list the kind things you have done, you begin to think about kindness more. And when you think of kindness, you look for it. And when you look for kindness, you find it. And when you find it, you pass it on. And only good can come from that.
Maybe you can’t force peace in the Middle East. Maybe you can’t get everyone to turn their backs on nuclear weapons, maybe you can’t even get that annoying co-worker to stop her passive-aggressive whining. But you can be kind. That’s what I love about Jane’s idea. It’s not complicated. And kindness, like a stone dropped into a pond, ripples outward. It rippled to me, and you can pass it on.
Here are a few ways that you can pass on kindness in a way that’s easy, free and heart-nurturing. I tried ‘em all, so I know they work:
— I’m standing in line at the post office. It’s a long line. I need one stamp. The woman behind me has three packages and a fussy baby. The baby smells poopy, like babies will do. It’s stuffy and hot in the post office. I let the lady get ahead of me in line. She has enough problems already. She does not thank me. I control myself so I do not long for that recognition.
—Same day, same post office, same line. I get to the window and ask to buy a sheet of stamps. “You have to go to the wall and choose the stamps,” snaps the postal worker. “Any kind is fine with me,” I reply.
“No,” says the postal worker, “You have to choose from the wall–pointing to the wall 20 feet away. “And then get back in line.”
“Anything you have is fine with me. Really,” I say, smiling.
“Next!” says the postal worker.
I leave the post office and buy a roll of stamps at the grocery store. I do not wish that the woman’s head would explode. I do not wish that she wets herself and her shoes fill up with urine. This takes some effort on my part to work out, as I have an active imagination. I choose to believe that she is having a horrible day, and the antidote to not being able to control your work life is controlling the customer. I am grateful that I know tonglin, as it is very useful in times like this.
—Drug store. Check out counter. The clerk scans my purchases and ask if I want to voluntarily send a candy bar to “a boy in the service.” I wonder if only “boys” get the candy and women warfighters don’t. I wonder what happens to the soldiers who are diabetic. “No thanks, ” I say simply. It’s not the clerk’s fault. Each one is required to ask, and I bet they get a lot of snappy answers.
—I’m teaching my workshop for the under-served. It’s a hard workshop with lots of administrative work. I stay in the classroom at breaks and lunch to do the administrative work. Often, participants ask me questions instead. Or just tell me the sad stories of their confusion and anger. At the end of the day I’m worn down from being on all day. A student asks if he can talk to me. I fantasize changing out of my heels and sitting down. “Sure,” I say. He tells me his complicated, unsolvable problems. I do not try to fix him, or his problems. I cannot. I listen. I am empathetic. I hand him a gift card for the nearby grocery store. I carry them with me for just such a purpose. It will feed him and his family for today. Sometimes that’s all I can do. It may be his only chance at a meal for the rest of the week.
Most of the time, our first reaction is one of anger. We live in a world triggered by fear. Kindness is in short supply. Drop that stone into the pond. Watch the ripples. Report back. Or just watch the ripples spread. It feels good.
—Quinn McDonald knows that kindness takes work. But she feels slim and light on her feet when she is kind. That alone is worth it.