Kindness, No Small Thing

I spend a fair amount of time in hospitals.  As a pastor I visit people in all sorts of circumstances.  Sometimes I’m sitting with my own family.  On one memorable occasion I  was the patient waiting for biopsy results, being prepped for surgery and then the process of recovery.

Being in a hospital provides ample time for waiting. We sit with our emotions or the emotions of others.  Often we feel vulnerable, placing our well-being or the well-being of a loved one, in the hands of another.   We wait, we pray, we hope.

I’m always mindful that each person has their own story….patients, family members and staff.  A hospital is a container for the emotions that make up the human condition: Anxiety, vulnerability, despair, grief, kindness, hope, healing.

In the intensity of this setting there is no such thing as a ‘small act of kindness’.


Recently I sat in a large hospital reception area sipping a cup of coffee.  To the side was a man seated at a piano.  As people waited for their appointment or for a loved one, he quietly played a variety of jazz and standards, making each piece his own.  An accomplished pianist his music was designed to help us relax.

One woman with tears released a long sigh.  A man holding a sleeping child closed his eyes and nodded his head to the music.  A few children held hands and danced.

Around his neck was a lanyard  which read’ volunteer’.  Thanking him for his kindness I asked how often he played at the hospital, he responded: ‘Once a week for a few hours.  I retired a few years ago from teaching and playing music allows me to give something back.  I know from experience that hospitals can be a stressful place.  If my music can make things a little easier, why not?’


We know, there is no such thing as a small act of kindness.  Every expression, particularly in the heightened setting of a hospital, is a blessing, a gift, a balm.

Thank you to the piano man. Thanks to each of you for the kindness you show.

 

Antidote to Election Bitterness

This has been a bitter, nasty political season.  The level of vitriol which transcends political party has created fissures among groups and within families.

Whichever political party wins the presidential and congressional election we will all have  work to do.  It will take work to live into the promise of our Pledge of Allegiance…‘one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all’.

How do we mend the divisions that threaten to pull us even further apart? How do we live into the values that guide us?

To begin we must understand the deep-seated fear and despair that many in our nation are feeling. We need to understand what brought about this alienation and offer practical and effective solutions.

People need to have hope.  In the absence of hope the gulf that separates us will only deepen and grow.  This is the long-term challenge for those we elect and for all citizens.

At the risk of appearing simplistic, I offer two steps that I think are essential in restoring us to unity as a people. 1) Listen.  Find people who voted differently than you and simply ask them ‘why’.  Don’t argue. Listen to understand why they feel the way they do.  Listen to their fears.  Listen to their hopes.

Understanding one another’s fears and hopes are essential first steps to finding solutions.  Listening to understand is a profound expression of respect. We may not readily agree on solutions but when we feel heard we are already on our way to finding common ground.

2) Offer kindness.  This political season has made us more coarse as a society.  We’ve talked at and past one another.  How can we respond?  With kindness.  https://www.randomactsofkindness.org/kindness-ideas

Starting with election day intentionally offer a ‘random act of kindness’.  Offer an act of kindness at least once a day for one week.  Who knows, it may become a life-giving habit.

In line for coffee?  Buy a cup for the person behind you.  At an intersection?  Flash your lights and let someone else make their turn.  Passing someone on the sidewalk?  Say ‘hello’.   See someone looking tired and stressed?  Offer a silent prayer of blessing.

Have a neighbor or family member who you’ve been avoiding because of politics?  Offer a gift of kindness.

photo-of-kindness

Not only will the act of kindness bless someone else, it will also begin to soften your heart too.  The path to reconciliation ain’t rocket science. Listening and offering acts of kindness can go a long way in bringing us back together as ‘one people’.

Come Wednesday morning nearly half of us will be pissed off or despondent.

Win or lose we each can choose how we will respond.  We can choose to listen and be kind.  In such simple acts we will find our way as a nation.

How to Heal a Nation

We lament the loss of civility in our culture.   Our current political season offers many examples but is not an outlier.  In the early days of our nation John Adams and Thomas Jefferson were locked in a particularly nasty campaign for president.  Jefferson questioned Adams sanity and Adams raised a rumor of Jefferson fathering illegitimate children.

If mudslinging is part of our political and social psyche it isn’t the entire story.  A few days ago we remembered the 15th anniversary of the terrorist attack on September 11th.  We remembered our collective trauma in seeing so many innocent people murdered.  We remembered too the beauty that arose from the ashes,  as strangers and neighbors across this country reached out to one another with countless acts of kindness.

Cindy McGinty lost her husband on that day.  In the years that followed Cindy says: “My community loved me back to my feet. I think of the neighbor who mowed my lawn for eight years. The taxi driver who took me on countless errands and refused to take my money.”

We think of Jo Jo Esposito the Staten Island fireman whose battalion lost half of its members on 9/11 .  He’s become a surrogate father to the children of several firefighters, including his own family members who died that day.  ‘There’s no manual that prepares you for this”, he said, “you simply try your best to do the right thing.”  Over the course of 15 years this surrogate dad has walked brides down the aisle and attended graduations and birthday parties.   He did it out of love for his friends.

On the anniversary of 9/11 we remember the trauma and all that was lost.  We remember too how it also brought out the best in us.

photo-memorial

During this uncivil political season it serves us well to remember the positive lessons from 9/11. The antidote to fear and coarseness is simple kindness.  The reminder that we are all in this together.  That our strength as a nation is in the quality and depth of our character, our  capacity to take care of each other.

 

 

A Christmas Wish: 26 Acts of Kindness

In the last few weeks we’ve been inundated with images of random violence.  From the shootings at Clackamas Town Center Mall in Portland, to the murder of 20 children and 6 adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut on December 14th.  We are shaken by violence in places normally thought to be safe.

What can we do?  How can we honor the lives of those lost and reaffirm all that is good?  With gratitude to the resiliency of the human spirit, people are responding in the most imaginative of ways.   One movement is 26 Acts of Kindness Campaign, which encourages individuals and communities to offer 26 expressions of kindness.  Imagine what happens when people throughout this nation and around the world respond to the challenge to grace others with kindness.  Each act in honor of those who lost their lives at Sandy Hook.

The website www.RandomActsOfKindness.org offers wonderful ideas for gifting neighbors and strangers with expressions of kindness.   It can be as simple as giving someone a prime parking spot, or deeply listening to someone, or buying a homeless neighbor lunch, or volunteering at school or serving others through your church.  The only limitation is our imagination.

In Judaism there is the hebrew word khesed, which means loving kindness.  The challenge is to offer each day at least one khesed, without drawing attention to oneself. 

Jesus said, “be compassionate as God is compassionate to you.”  The word compassion means to ‘suffer with’.  To be compassionate, is to enter into the pain of the other, to respond with loving kindness, in word and in deed.

In response to the needs and challenges of our time, Jim Wallis, the Christian activist writes:  “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.”  We are the ones who can reclaim our society from violence and indifference.  We are the ones who make this world a more loving, just and hopeful place. 

Jesus was born into a world of violence and uncertainty.  Herod the cruel King was on the throne.  Yet the lesson of Christmas, is that the violence and uncertainty of any moment in history, will never have the last word.   And what is our role in the Christmas story?  To share God’s love, to be God’s khesed.

May you be both blessed and a blessing this Christmas.