When my husband died I learned the true meaning of kindness. Friends went out of their way to express kindness in a way I had not experienced. It made me realize that I had not expressed kindness as fully as I would going forward because I didn’t fully understand how even the smallest of kindnesses had such meaningfulness to its recipient. Now again, during this pandemic I have learned the meaning of kindness, both when given and received.
Kindness, according to Wikipedia, is the quality of being friendly, generous and considerate. Affection, gentleness, warmth, concern and care are words that are associated with kindness. I used to think doing the right thing and having empathy for others was being kind. Now I know that kindness is more than that. It’s going out of your way to consider other people’s needs and feelings. It might be anticipating another’s needs that seem trivial to you, but a small act of kindness at the time of someone else’s needs could be huge to them. I wasn’t sure what might be perceived as intrusion at a vulnerable time in someone else’s life. When Jon died, for example, Debbie, my next-door neighbor at the time, arrived at the hospital with a bagged lunch from Eaton Street Bakery. She was just there at the right moment and her gesture has stayed with me and has made me a better person.
During the pandemic, I’ve observed many people have gotten kinder, but others have become self-absorbed, thinking only of how miserable they are. I think kindness might have something to do with integrity. Some people I talked with in one of my Zoom meetings felt that many of us have become overly critical of ourselves. Forgiving, or being kind to ourselves, is the beginning of learning to be kind to others. Being kind isn’t the same as being nice. Sometimes being kind to someone isn’t in their best interests, like enabling someone to continue destructive behavior. Empathy is entirely different and requires understanding. But kindness is less complicated and doesn’t require anything more than reaching out to someone in need with no strings attached. You aren’t looking for anything in return. An author writing on kindness suggested that in order to find true kindness one must first feel loss. I hadn’t put a lot of thinking into the idea of kindness before this past year. I think people just have that instinct within them – or sometimes not. Sometimes it’s easier not to act kindly and that’s when we find out the stuff we’re made of. It’s not without feeling that we shy away from an opportunity to offer a kind gesture when it might be inconvenient, just pure laziness – and then the moment is gone.
Since we’re approaching Thanksgiving and many of us are doing away with tradition and possibly being alone or without family, it might be time test our mettle with an act of kindness. My family has always lived in close proximity of each other and have always celebrated together. Every year we’ve made sure to include someone who would be alone. Often it was a stranger to most of us. Once we invited a woman none of us knew, but met by accident when walking that morning and discovering her aloneness. She turned out to be most engaging, and in her presence, my kids behaved a whole lot more politely than normal. They often bring up that Thanksgiving over the years.
Over the years of many Thanksgivings in different places we’ve lived, we would go around the table, each member of the family, young and old, sharing what they were thankful for. The younger kids moaned, not appreciating being put on the spot, or in the spotlight. But they often surprised us with their “on the spot” pronouncements.
Last Thanksgiving my daughter gave us all apothecary jars filled with little tags and we were told that for the following year each of us would record small and large acts of kindness on the cards and put them in our individual jars. We had intended to read them in turn around the table this year. Well, now it seems we’ll be doing this via Zoom as everyone is too far away for a traditional family Thanksgiving. At first we all moaned when we received our “Kindness” jars, but now I’m anticipating rather than feeling let down over our being separated. I have the feeling I might be the only one who remembered to write down my kindnesses as the adults are outnumbered by the kids. So I texted them all to remind them, even knowing they’ll make up kindnesses they wish they’d done.
My only hope is that at least one of them writes, “I remembered to be kind to someone.”
Leslie Linsley has written more than 50 books on crafts, decorating and home style. She resides on Nantucket, Massachusetts. Her latest books are “Salvage Style” and “Upscale Downsizing” (Sterling Publishers). Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.