Sunday, April 8, 2012

On Kindness

One of the pleasures of retirement is the freedom to spend the morning in a contemplative way.  A favorite early beginning for me is to turn on our gas fireplace to combat the morning chill, make a steaming pot of Earl Grey Tea and sit in my chair by the window.  I may simply sit quietly and breathe into the morning or reach for something to read that can help set my intention for the day. 

Inspirational books are piled by my place.  This morning I turned to the Celtic poet John O’Donohue.  His early death at the age of 52 robbed us of a poignant and powerful voice.  His book, To Bless the Space Between Us: A Book of Blessings, published in 2008, is full of rich insights. 

         There is a kindness that dwells deep down in things; it presides everywhere, often in the places we least expect.  The world can be harsh and negative, but if we remain generous and patient, kindness inevitably reveals itself.  . . . The word kindness has a gentle sound that seems to echo the presence of compassionate goodness.  When someone is kind to you, you feel understood and seen.  There is no judgment or harsh perception directed toward you.  Kindness has gracious eyes; it is not small-minded or competitive; it wants nothing back for itself.  Kindness strikes a resonance with the depths of your own heart.   . . .  Despite all the darkness, human hope is based on the instinct that at the deepest level of reality some intimate kindness holds sway.  This is the heart of blessing.  To believe in blessing is to believe that our being here, our very presence in the world, is itself the first gift, the primal blessing.  As Rilke says: Hier zu sein ist so viel—to be here is immense.       P 185-186 from  To Bless Space Between Us.

Kindness has been on my mind lately.  Recently on a trip to Denver my husband and I were invited to dinner at the home of a former Stanford student who had graduated nearly twenty years ago.  Jason and his wife Tonya and their two lovely daughters, Olivia and Ramona were living in a beautiful home with views of the surrounding Colorado mountains.  A young academic now, Jason was involved with the environment and public policy issues.  His wife had just launched a new career as a professional photographer.  They had just come back from a family weekend of hiking and frolicking in the mountains.  Thanks to the miracle of GPS we found their suburban neighborhood in Golden, CO and were welcomed warmly.  We proffered some ice cream to add to the dinner, which was swept away to the freezer until time to serve it.  

The meal was a wonderful roasted pepper pasta with a cashew sauce, made freshly in the kitchen where we set a family table to share the meal.  It was such a pleasure to catch up with the twenty year passage of time.  For dessert Jason brought forward a chocolate mousse cake that the girls had chosen at the Safeway along with the two cartons of ice cream which we had brought.  We all served ourselves and enjoyed the sweets along with some excellent herbal tea. 

Dessert was followed by a rousing game of “Apples to Apples” a family game that matches random words with some category or adjective.  Everyone tries to “win” each round and lots of laughter is let loose as we all vie for the best choice of what is “weird” or “green.”  After the score was tallied (I think Jason won) the girls said their goodnights and Tonya took them to bed.  She later joined us for a little more conversation and telling stories of old times before we made a modestly early departure.  It was one of those evenings that felt perfect.  It was wholesome and happy and natural. 

This morning as I was thinking back on the pleasures of that visit I had a satori.   “Ron,” I said, “It just hit me: Jason’s family is vegan.  They don’t eat dairy.  I remember now that they offered the girls soymilk for dinner.  VEGAN!!  Oh, my goodness, and we brought ice cream.  Ice cream.

And, the remarkable thing was that not once did anyone mention this.  And, when the ice cream was brought out each of them had a spoonful or two.  What is astonishing to me now is the unbelievable kindness of this. How marvelous that their young daughters knew how to handle this situation.  No one ever said, “Oh, thanks anyway.  We don’t eat dairy.”   Instead they all accepted our small but misguided gift and breaking their own preferences made us feel completely accepted.   What a miracle.  What a stunning act of kindness. 

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