First, Be Kind

 

Of all the misunderstood character traits, kindness tops my observational list. The world is much better with it, but many people assume that simply because a person is kind that they are weak. In fact, kindness is what keeps me out of arguments. If I don’t have something productive to say, I don’t say anything. Consequently, I’ve been fairly quiet lately. Please don’t misunderstand that: I’m not letting my resentment simmer until it explodes and I break out a can of whoopins upon someone. I’m just refocusing my energy until I can talk to that individual without swearing and hurling insults upon them. In behavior management terms, I believe that’s called “time away.”

The world isn’t kind, I hear you protest. Well, the world is spinning on a 23.5° axis, so I’m pretty sure manners aren’t necessary. People are mean to each other, unfair. Sure, and so the answer to that is to be meaner and more unfair? Of course not. Martin Luther King has been credited as saying, “Hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that.” We’re not getting very far in global relations if the answer to someone else’s situation is to hate them, so I submit that being kind is far more productive.

I’m not saying that the secret to Peace on Earth and goodwill to all is simple kindness. I am, however, suggesting that it doesn’t hurt to try kindness first. Give the benefit of the doubt. Try to reframe a situation so that you can understand from another person’s perspective. We practice that exercise in social skill building and conflict resolution all the time. Stephen Covey made a whole truck-ton of money writing the Seven Habits series in which one of the habits is “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” This way, we’re listening more actively, and less with the intent to listen just long enough to get our position across.

Kindness actually comes with a pretty good-sized backbone attached. It takes kindness to understand another person’s perspective without judgement, and even more kindness (some would call it compassion) to be useful to someone else without the expectation of a favor returned. Mother Theresa included this little snippet of wisdom in one of her speeches: “If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives; Be kind anyway.”

It is interesting, and a little sad, to think that if you are taking a genuine interest in someone else’s well-being that people tend to think you want something in exchange. I’d rather that, though, than to behave as though I’m indifferent to what happens around me. I may have to zip my lip, but at least I don’t have to lock down my heart and my compassion. I’m almost convinced that indifference is worse than hate or anger anyway. With hate and anger there is a certain type of energy that can be refocused; indifference means that I don’t even care enough about a person to take any interest in them at all. I’d rather try being kind.

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Who loves ya, baby?

The year was 1975(ish), and Telly Savalas was a sucker-ingesting, bald-headed badass solving crimes on the TV show Kojak. Cringe or laugh if you must, but while the show was a little beyond my elementary school-aged interests, the thing that sticks in my memory is a) the lollipop; b) the bald head; and c) his catch phrase: “Who loves ya, baby?” He was kind of cool, in a really old guy with no hair sort of way. The deal with the lollipops was a mystery that I didn’t care to ponder as I worried about the more important issues like my chores and the potential that one day – gasp! – I might be that age. Ewwwww.

Now that I am actually that age, I presume Kojak was kicking a smoking habit or something (I never bothered to check). That phrase, though, was a little smoldery, a little sexy, a little threatening: Swagger before swagger was swag-alicious. And the bald headedness is something, I admit freely, I still find attractive. Today is Valentine’s Day, the day of chocolates and pink/red/white decorations. While it is not my favorite day, it is at least a very delicious day. Grab your goody of choice and let’s ponder this whole love gig.

Of course we all celebrate different types of love, and a life well lived is one that includes any or all of them in whatever combination brings meaning to you. Today I haven’t been thinking about love, but rather about the concept of a best friend: a person who is your go-to, the yin to your yang, the one around whom you are most able to be yourself, but who is also not yourself. I would argue vehemently that you should be your own best friend; but after that, it would probably be good to have a backup best friend outside of yourself who will tell you when you have cheese dripping down your chin, chives in your braces (thanks, Kristen), or that your butt does in fact look big in those jeans (thanks, Mark). A best friend, according to the recent quips and snarks, is one who will pick you up when you’re down and who will also slap you upside the head when you’re being a stark-raving idiot. If this is the definition, my best friend is three people, and I’m grateful for that.

I understand that too many people find Valentine’s Day a depressing reminder of whatever relationship status they’re in. I don’t look at it that way, never have. I still look at it as a day in which I can choose to let other people know I love them, or not. In other words, it’s like any other day, but with heart-shaped snacks associated with it. Why should one wait for a particular day to let people know they love them? Like, “Oh, I really love that person but it’s not February 14. I guess I better not tell them.” Love unspoken and unshared is like getting someone a gift and not giving it to them.

Of course, love has risk attached to it. It’s love, after all. Hearts get bruised and broken every day ad infinitum, but our capacity for love is one of the most wonderful aspects of being human. Love doesn’t have to be romantic love – some of the strongest loves are those between friends, family, or the friends who are the family of the heart. It’s far more risky to health and happiness to hold love as a miser would hold money. I’m not advocating free love or whoopy-noopy ideologies about relationships; I’m just suggesting that the most important types of love aren’t always the romantic ones.

It’s way too easy to compare ourselves to some other glamorized version of love and find ourselves wanting. This day in particular strikes some people pretty deeply. I won’t try to quip that away, but I will gently remind you that more people love you than you might think. If you answered the question embedded in the title, I hope that you remembered to count yourself among the people who love you best.

We Interrupt Your Regularly Scheduled Inspiration

It’s Sunday night, and because I’m supposed to be doing my homework, I’m scrolling through my social media. By now, you know my ability to task avoid could win me a gold medal if it was an Olympic Sport; on this particular Sunday I am outperforming my usual excellence in not doing what I tell myself I’m supposed to. I begin watching a sweet video about people giving advice to their younger selves; I had just begun the inspired rapid eye blinking that signifies a heartfelt “Awwwwww” is about to escape, when my husband interrupts me with the dulcet tones of, “Whatareyoudoingwhat’sfordinner?” He says this as if it’s one word, so read it that way.

We pursue our inspiration differently, my husband and I. His is more along the lines of finishing a project and finding satisfaction in a job well done. Mine comes from looking around, taking stock, celebrating the moment, and sharing that with others, usually the family. Sometimes that blends, sometimes it doesn’t. Sunday night, for example, he has taken a break from his newest project related to restoring an antique Ford pickup truck (forest green, 1963 F150 for those of you who speak Car and Truck). He’s inspired, gratified, motivated, and quiet obviously, hungry.

If I were a subservient wife, I would stop watching my video clip and hunt/gather/prepare dinner. I am not such a person. Make of this what you will. I finished watching the clip, and then called husband and son to help me with dinner. What we lack in culinary prowess, we more than make up for in ability to transform a humble meal into a social occasion. We eat in the dining room this Sunday evening, largely because my homework occupies my kitchen table. We don’t’ light the candles, but we sit and visit, laugh and tease, have a serious discussion about adulthood, and a lighter one about my unfinished sewing projects.

We clean up the table together and retreat to our own caves: Husband into the garage, though he welcomes us all to join and grab a wrench; Son to his room to listen to his newest music find (Salsa? Calypso? I can’t quite tell which); me to my homework to wrestle with the twin desires of completing work ahead of time and the equally provocative notion of finishing the book I’ve been reading.

I finish the homework, smug and self-satisfied for completing it early, and then grin when I realize what I would have contributed to the video of what I’d tell my younger self.

“Hey! Son!” I holler over the salsa/calypso/happy music playing in his room.

“What?”

“I love you, and I think you’re really great!”

He doesn’t respond because that’s not his way, but his happy chuckle is better music than the tune on the radio.

“Hey! Husband! I love you!” I call over his swearing at the truck’s reluctance to part with some mechanism or other.

His grimy, smiling face pops out from under the truck. “Love you too. Will you pass me that wrench?”

Task accomplished, I am now ready for my turn on the video. My advice to my younger self: don’t miss a chance to tell people you love them.

A Little Distracted

We’ve eaten our leftovers and moved on to more standard fare, the events of last week gone in a mad rush to decorate and do and bake and see and whatever it is people do in December. This is a superdupersuperlative time of year, and I mean that in both the positive and negative connotations of my made-up word. Because of all this superduperness, I’m a little distracted.

In real life, I just completed a writing project (yay), and organized some of the flotsam around my desk (meh), but I am supposed to be writing lesson plans (ahem). I know I have achieved new levels of task avoidant awesomeness when the idea of sorting through papers is more appealing than doing what I’m supposed to be doing. At least the desk looks tidier, I tell myself, as I wonder when some deux ex machina is going to save me and inspire me to complete my work.

As I ponder that, I have new books staring at me, beckoning to me. I yearn to answer the call of the crisp, freshly published pages, but I’m supposed to have my brain on silencer. It’s. Not. Silent. I’m singing show tunes and planning what I’ll wear to the holiday parties I’m going to. Should it be the teal satin skirt or the fun striped dress?

I realize I haven’t talked to my best friend in about three weeks, and while she’ll forgive me, it’s suddenly vastly important that I give her a call. Well, send her a text anyway. While I’ m getting my phone, I notice a new catalog with sparkly and decorative ideas. The crafty gal in me is now motivated to make holiday quilts for my friends. Right this second. This sends me towards my sewing supplies.

On the way I pass by my desk, again reminded that the lesson plans are just a few minutes from completion. Won’t I feel fantastic and accomplished when I’m finished? Wouldn’t I rather make a cup of tea first? On the way to the microwave, my husband asks if I want to go for ice cream.

Distracted though I am, one thing doesn’t change: the call of ice cream (coffee for me) supersedes all other calls. The text messages and the books, the catalogs and holiday attire will wait. I finish my lesson plan and I’m out the door, deux ex machina in the form of my spouse. I’ll make decisions about the other distractions when I get back home.

Whammied by Love

A couple of my friends were married yesterday. Of course she was beautiful, of course he was handsome, and of course the ceremony was meaningful. I can’t tell you about the decorations, though they were pretty. I don’t know what anyone other than the bridal party wore. I don’t know any of the minutiae of the day because I was a happy observer. I can only try to share the emotion of what being around these two friends and their families was like.

Sometimes people are friends just because they’re friends. That is how I am friends with the bride and groom, their best man and maid of honor. Their love for each other is a palpable entity that makes me smile. That they include me in the warmth of their friendship is a gift. At the wedding, their vows were simple, the ceremony short but beautiful. The message I got from the wedding was: “This is us. We are together. We are in this moment.”

At the reception, my husband and I sat at our designated table, made friends with two aunts, relaxed together for the first time in way too long. We have our own communication style, and if his tapping on my leg was any indication, he was comfortable in a sea of strangers. The great thing is that we didn’t stay strangers for long.

The bride and groom made their rounds to say hello to everyone; so did the wedding party, and so did the parents. The groom looks like his father and has his mother’s poise. The bride’s father is charming and radiates generosity, a thoughtful man. The guests didn’t care if they knew us or not, we were together sharing a meal, toasting the bride and groom, and that was enough.

Maybe it’s been too long since I’ve been at a wedding, but this one seemed different somehow. More hopeful. More like an exhale before the next breath in. These two, forgive the platitude, are meant to be. It’s not often that one gets to witness a celebration of something that we all know is as natural as air, and as essential. These two are soulmates. They will fight, they will struggle; life isn’t being any kinder to them simply because they are each other’s counterpart. They will, however, laugh much more often, rejoice in each day and each other. I know this with a certainty based on nothing more than their promise to each other.

Then I got whammied. I commented to one of the aunts how lovely the evening was and she said, “With all that’s going on in this world, it’s nice to celebrate what’s good about life.” Indeed. Aunts are good at stating the essential truth of a situation; I agreed with her and rested my head on my husband’s arm, sharing in a celebration of what’s good.

The Value of 25 Years

In a little over a week, my husband and I will celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary, which seems like an eternity-ish long time until I put it into its proper perspective. I checked with my good friends at Google, and found some interesting statistics: According to an array of sources too numerous to bother citing, the average length of a marriage that ends in divorce is about eight years. That feels about like what I thought it would be, but then I wondered: what about the average length of a marriage that doesn’t end in divorce? According to a couple Google-based statisticians, this average is around 27 years; the median is around 40 years. We sometimes feel a little odd because we’ve been sharing each other’s life space for a good while, but it turns out we’re just entering the second phase of our marriage. I find that pretty cool.

I can’t really comment on the longevity of our marriage in terms of its whys and hows, but I can say with absolute certainty that he is my favorite person on the planet. Because I started with statistics, I thought it might be interesting to view what 25 years look like from our perspective. In no particular order, here’s a glimpse:

  • Two children
  • Nine different homes in four states
  • Three dogs, two cats, three frogs, four lizards, and a gecko
  • Seven long road trips (if my count is correct, we’ve been to 30 of the contiguous states in all)
  • Two health scares, both completely treatable
  • One bout with skin cancer, also completely treatable
  • One broken bone
  • Four sets of braces
  • A measure of funerals, weddings, baby showers and graduations
  • More laughter than tears
  • More trips to fast food emporiums than we should ever admit

I have no need to keep going; our marriage is ours and the list made me get all teary-eyed. After all these years together, I feel like I am just now getting to know my husband. He’s funny, wonderfully and humbly intelligent, and the only person I know who can annoy me and charm me at the same time. The fact that we met is my sister’s doing; that he’s the person I share my good news, bad news, boring news and gossip with, is all our own. I have no clue what the next 25 years of our life are going to be like, but I do know that of all the good that has come my way this far in my life, I am most grateful for the kids and him.