You may have seen my dear friend Ruth Pittard and some of her friends standing on the corner of Montreal Rd. waving, smiling, and holding up signs urging passers-by to Try Love. It seems strange that we need to remind people to be kind, as it should be natural in a town that is so committed to a religion whose message is love, forgiveness, and acceptance. Yet, we allow day to day insanity to get into our heads and make us angry and ornery. And we are not always kind.
I just read a book called Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng about the clash between two women who made choices in their lives that took them down very different paths. One woman is an artist and is a single parent. She and her daughter live like gypsies, allowing Mia’s art to be their primary consideration. The other woman, Elena, started young adulthood as a progressive firebrand, wanting to make the world better, but she decides to settle into a comfortable bourgeois life in Shaker Heights. She is in a sense trapped by her choices, and the spark dies. Elena considers herself a kind person, but something about Mia reminds her of the idealism she gave up. She then turns on Mia and alienates her own children in the process.
Someone once told me that if you take an instant dislike to someone it’s because something about him or her reminds you of something in yourself that you do not like. Mia’s bohemian life bugs Elena because she imagined herself being more of an activist, more of a free spirit, and she turns really ugly and vindictive, threatening to expose a secret Mia has been harboring and driving her away.
This morning over coffee I was telling Ron about my view that maybe being kind is a choice reserved only for the comfortable. I said that if I were a victim of the earthquake in Indonesia, I might not be concerned about being kind. I would do whatever it takes to take care of my loved ones. Ron corrected me, though. It’s at times like these, times of crisis and suffering, that people tend to band together and help each other out. After 9/11 there was a reduction in crime and an outpouring of love and acceptance. People lined up for hours all over the country to donate blood and offered whatever help they could to others.
We are in the midst right now of an existential crisis in this country and kindness is needed. Someone posted on Facebook this morning that it feels as if the main thing people are doing on Facebook is arguing with strangers about politics. Someone came in the shop earlier and said that political views have alienated her from people who were good friends previously. Facebook friends whom I like otherwise post smarmy, nasty memes. I forget that I like these people and instead think of them as The Enemy.
Whether it has been intentional or not, the current government has divided this country like never before (ok, maybe not since the Civil War.) Everyone is taking a stand on every hot-button issue and waving his or her views like a red flag in front of a bull. I find myself thinking nasty thoughts about anyone with an opposing view.
It seems as if this would be an excellent time to calm down. While I reserve the right to criticize our leaders, I want to practice kindness towards people whom I meet day to day. Everyone is tense, angry, and worried sick about the future, but I want to keep in mind, that we are all in that same boat. I want to extend a hand in friendship instead of wanting to slap other people. As (the amazing) David LaMotte said to me yesterday, “I want to invite people in rather than call them out.” I’ll let you know if I can pull it off.