No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted. — Aesop
Weeks ago, the explosions at the Boston Marathon.
Like everyone, I was sick, angry, numb. I felt apprehension, pity, grief. A hundred other things I had no words for. The horror of Newtown returned, an event so hideous that at the time I couldn’t put feelings into words.
I thought, Thank heaven there were only three killed this time.
God, what an appalling comment on the reality we inhabit now: only three.
I read beautiful words about compassion and kindness. Again I had no words.
I also read an article in The Guardian—News is Bad for You. Avoid reading news, it said. You will be healthier, happier, more creative, more able to face problems.
It made sense. But ignore this? How could you turn away from this?
But that wasn’t what The Guardian article was saying. The explosions in Boston was news you couldn’t avoid, couldn’t not read. It would find you. But you must pull back from the horrors before they work a spell and you fall into despair.
What we need are antidotes for despair. So I want to tell a story about kindness:
Some years ago I had a falling out with a nurse in our operating room. We stopped speaking to each other. When we were assigned to the same case, we said what was necessary, but we avoided each other in the halls.
I felt I had been wronged by this nurse. So I shut her out. This went on for years.
Then she got sick. She had a bad cancer, and the cancer was taken out, but it may recur.
Many weeks after her operation she came back to work. I saw her in the hall.
“I’m glad you’re okay,” I said.
I meant it. I had no rancor left. I felt sorry for her. I wanted to be kind.
We began acknowledging each other in the hall. I said hi and said her name. She said my name. We didn’t talk much, but things had shifted.
Last week we worked on a case. I felt kindly toward her. After the case I went over to her.
“It was stupid to go on hating each other,” I said.
“Yes,” she said. “At first when you said hello, I thought you just were feeling sorry for me.”
“I did, but that’s not it,” I said.
“I know,” she said.
“I just think about . . . how fast it goes,” I said.
“You have to want to be kind,” she said.
Kindness doesn’t just happen. It’s so easy not to be kind that it takes a conscious act to overcome the inertia. It’s a decision, an act of will. You choose it, or not. Like you must choose to pull away from horror.
There’s a Hebrew prayer–I may have written about it before–that talks about love. It says, “You shall love . . . And you shall keep these words upon your heart.”
That is to say, remind yourself.
But the rabbis of old asked, Why this language in particular? Why upon the heart? Why not keep the words of reminder in the heart?
And the answer was given that no one, not even God, can force love into the heart. So the best that can be done is to keep repeating the commandment to love, and leave the words upon the heart.
Then, when the heart breaks, the words can enter.
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