[Back to Index]

Three Important Things

Jul 5, 2005

Three things in human life are important. The first is to be kind. The second is to be kind. The third is to be kind.
- Henry James

Less than a snowball's chance in Madurai- the heart that encounters Unexpected Kindness in the world. And today I want to talk about Kindness. The way it follows you around the world. Wakes you up in the middle of a long train ride in an unfamiliar country to gently ask if you?d like some tea and when you say yes- makes it for you with such grave sincerity that you can?t help but wonder what makes some people so- decent. He doesn?t ask your name or where you?re going. But he hands you the cup steaming fragrance with careful, courteous hands. And then returns to his seat with dark beard and quiet eyes and you know you will never see him again. And you know that you will not forget this gesture of unspoken comfort carried in a warm papercup passed between the hands of one stranger to another. And today I want to talk about Kindness. The way it steps out of unexpected places- like the customs desk in an airport. A large man with noisy fingers rummages rudely through a suitcase and somehow it makes you want to cry- the careless way he pushes aside the anxious thoughtfulness of your mother?s packing (because she still doesn?t trust you to do it yourself. And it?s true she does a better job. Packing breakable things inside socks and little things like that that you wouldn?t necessarily think of- or I wouldn?t at least). And just when you think you can?t take this impersonal official?s impassive invasiveness any longer, the young woman next to him, wearing bright lipstick and a motherly expression nudges Impersonal Impassive Invasive Official in the ribs and hisses loudly- Benji be nice! At which point he looks up at you- sees you for the first time and looks suddenly so sorry and shamed that you have to smile which makes him smile back and start rearranging the minor mess he has made in your suitcase-and suddenly it?s not that big a deal any more. And you wonder what it must be like to be Benji. And to stand at this counter so many days a week with nothing but this to do week after week. Sort through a series of strangers? possessions looking for what?s not supposed to be there. Not exactly a friendly sort of job. Not exactly the sort of job which endears one to the public- which is unfortunate because- what if he?s really a friendly sort of guy? And what if he?s just tired of people he doesn?t know looking at him with that weary mixture of apprehension and dislike even before he?s touched their first bag? When you leave he tips his head at you, you nod back- half apology half blessing on both sides. But I meant to talk today about Kindness like the cool hand on the fevered forehead of a sick child, or the soft frankness of a flower who salvages a difficult day by that rare and simple quality of- Being. Kindness in the eyes of the lady who laughs at your fistful of pennies and gives you a bunch of quarters to make an urgent phonecall (because you gave all your other change away- every last nickel to the old man who helped push your wayward cart through a long terminal trying to help you reach a flight- that you will end up missing- on time)Yes Kindness like an afternoon drizzle soothing the heart past the harsh insults of the sun. Kindness the ultimate Peacemaker- dissolving all your quiet quarrels with the world in such undreamt of ways. Today I want to talk about Kindness. The patient who waited months to have her blind eye operated on because she was too poor to afford the bus fare from her village. When you go talk to her, she smiles at you out of one eye (the other is covered by a green patch) and asks you to sit down and offers to buy you a cup of tea (because guests must always be made to feel welcome- and no matter how poor you are you are only truly poor if you can?t afford hospitality- because ?giving lends a tone of grace to survival? and Kindness that greets you in the grin of a small brown dog who always makes you feel better on bad days because if the dog is still laughing how bad can it be? And Kindness in the shape of hands that are old and soft and worn out working for love of you. And it is Kindness that unties the knot of your argument with life. Carries your heavy suitcase up a steep flight of stairs without waiting to ask your permission. Unties you like a shoelace yes that easily and makes you cherish this flawed world with all the helplessness of deep gratitude. And it is Kindness that whirls you like a dervish away from cynicism and other disguises of disappointment. A lady with a black umbrella and a very starched white cotton sari stops on a tree-shaded street to give you an armful of dahlias- and no it?s not your birthday- and no you don?t really know her. Kindness that cannot be explained and will not be reasoned out because it is its own cause. And today I want to talk about Kindness. Because Kindness is an excuse to believe in ourselves and our world. And in the end it is Kindness that matters. (Even though there will always be more songs-stories-poems about even though there will always be more talk about- Love).

[Back to Index]

 
 

Projects I'm Involved With

"Service doesn't start when you have something to give; it blossoms naturally when you have nothing left to take."

"Real privilege lies in knowing that you have enough."