“a kindness that dwells deep down in things”

IMG_5068The other day I was venting to a very wise friend about the greed and self-interest of some people I know, let’s call them “The Evil Ones.” I ranted to this friend, who just happens to be a brilliant psychologist and Zen priest, how The Evil Ones had it all wrong and were doing terrible greedy things, and as I spoke I noticed that my friend, let’s call him Flint, was watching me with a slightly pained look in his eyes, which made me conscious that I must be making some very indignant faces. I paused. This is not attractive– and bad for the crows’ feet not to mention the nervous system.

 And because he often has just the right book at hand, Flint then read me a few lines from an essay called The Structures of Kindness by the late Irish thinker, John O’Donohue. Here is an excerpt,

“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…Despite all the darkness, human hope is based on the instinct that at the deepest level of reality some intimate kindness holds sway.”

“Oh, that’s great,” I said, still feeling a tad righteous. “I am going to mail that to The Evil Ones.”

“Actually,” he said, wink in eye, “I was thinking you might want to read it every morning yourself.”

Ah, yes. That was it– he was right, I was the one who needed a little reminder about kindness. Blame and indignation weren’t getting me anywhere.

But I needed to ruminate a bit over O’Donohue’s words. Do I believe that? That there is some form of kindness holding sway despite all of the harsh and negative? I can think of about fifteen very smart friends of mine who I imagine would give that one a big eye roll. But so what? Hey, back off you habitual inner skeptic!, I told myself. Ssshhhh…Give me a little room to think this over. And so I read the essay repeatedly over a few weeks and considered if it felt true to me. And I decided that these words were more than rosy wishful thinking. Yes, there is bad stuff that needs to be fought against or stood up to and get angry about–all of that. AND there is a lot of kindness at the same time. You get angry bombers in Boston AND you get amazingly fearless people running in to help in that critical moment when things are boiled down to sheer instinct. For many, the natural instinct is kindness.

I also considered how, in less dramatic terms, in my own neighborhood, my day-to -day reality is one of unbidden kindness. I see it holding sway all of the time in these seemingly small but very thoughtful, and important ways. Like Mary Gay knocking on my door to tell me that the parking police were about to ticket me because I hadn’t put the new residential parking sticker on my car yet. Neighborly Solidarity. Or how she came over to let us know that our three-year-old was sitting by himself on top of the station wagon in the driveway. She doesn’t have to go out of her way, but she does—again and again. Or smiling Rimil, the sweet 3rd grade girl across the street who is moving back to New Delhi this summer and who often leaves treats for my kids on the doorstep or takes care of neighbor Jane’s pugs. And Laurie Marchant, who sometimes sends a few of her warm baked scones to us up the hill—sharing her enviable baking talents (and calories) with us. Or when Darian across the street went out of her way to call me while I was on holiday in San Francisco to tell me there was an unknown shirtless man sitting in my driveway and did he belong there? (yes, he did, he was my eccentric college professor who was housesitting and apparently liked to sit in my driveway shirtless to read). Or Neighbor Paul, as I call him, who brought me beautiful pictures of Carlisle wearing cat ears at his daughter’s birthday party. Or Jane who is always leaving little things at our front door—her extra bags of potting soil or stacks of drawing paper for the kids. And Julie Willis giving my son all of her boys’ old Star Wars toys when they’d outgrown them. Small gestures, but they make a HUGE difference—no one had to do these things, but they did anyway. Kindness.

Once I started thinking about it, I saw unbidden kindness over and over, particularly on Laurel Lane.

I’m still not happy about The Evil Ones, but maybe I don’t feel so volatile and adrenaline-amped about them. And maybe, if I pause, I have to admit that they might not REALLY be so evil deep down. I’ll need a new name for them.