It was cold and windy a few nights back when Chester and I headed out the door on his last walk before bedtime. Rain was forecast. A south easterly breeze kicked up, already strong enough to rustle the eucalyptus and jangle the wind chimes. Two owls called to each other down the dark hill.
I was a little mad at myself, wondering if this year of kindness was already floundering since I hadn’t really found a way to be intentionally kind all day. I’d baked bread and shared it at a neighborhood dinner potluck. But I would have done that anyway. I’d been part of a conversation about where to donate the jar of money our friend group fed all year instead of buying gifts for each other. But that felt like riding the coattails of a 2018 decision. Bah, I thought. I’ll do two kind things tomorrow.
Watch for coyotes, Jim said when we left. I saw one crossing the street just now as I was taking out the trash cans.
Stepping into nearly silent darkness, with its sage-fresh cold air, and tree-lined canopy, is my favorite nightcap. I take a flashlight, but rarely turn it on, especially on a night like this with the waning crescent moon, mars on the far horizon and stars enough to brighten the road.
Forgive me, I asked the moon.
There isn’t a sidewalk, but I can see cars’ headlights in plenty of time to move onto gravel or bushes long before the driver would have to swerve. Anyway, in my sleepy neighborhood on a Sunday night, cars are rare and I’ve never been hit.
So when a black SUV roared up the hill and pulled a u-turn a few feet from me and Chester, I startled. The back passenger door opened and a figure emerged, stood at the car’s back bumper, seeming to watch me. Chester growled low.
I recognized the voice of a now-man, a once 7-year-old boy I’d met when we first moved in.
Zach was long gone from the neighborhood, but his father still lives on our block. I was starting to shiver, not eager to stay out longer and tempt the rain and coyote gods, but there was something urgent in the way he’d called out in the dark.
I picked up a thread of conversation we’d been pulling for more than ten years.
Are the right teams going to the playoffs? Zach played football through high school and we always caught up on his life through sports.
Nah, nothing is going right. He kicked the dirt, shoved his hands in his pockets. Inside the SUV, I heard voices between beats in the music. I just got back from a funeral. Maybe you read about it. A guy I knew was riding a bike and he was hit by a 16-year-old girl. It was really sad. Nothing good about any of it.
Zach is the kind of guy that goes to funerals. This wasn’t the first time I’d seen him in front of his house after doing so. A friend’s mom. A friend. It seems like for such a young man he’s seen plenty of death.
So the wind blew and the cold settled while I listened to Zach talk in the dark about two shattered families. The fragility of life. How to find meaning.
I said I was really sorry about his friend.
I pointed at the sky and told him sometimes when I feel bad, I look up just to feel that blanket of stars cover me.
Mhmmm, he said. It sure is beautiful out here. Every day. We’re so lucky to be alive.
According to the United Nations, about 6,775 people die each day in the US. Odds are we walk past, or brush by, someone grieving more often than we know.
How can we learn to carry a kind, open gentleness in our hearts when someone seemingly snubs us or nearly runs us over?
Can we learn to slow down a little, to look up together in the cold, dark and take time to listen when someone unexpectedly trusts us with an admission of sadness?
Zach and I finally said goodbye. Chester and I returned home. I sat on my balcony watching the moon slowly disappear behind gathering clouds. As clouds cover the moon, you can watch an ever-tightening circle hug the moon closer and closer, creating a focal point of light in the night sky.
The air grew damper and the wind picked up as the chimes clanged a louder dissonance. Down the hill, the owls still called. The lights went out in Zach’s house and I went in to bed.
Grief is, unfortunately, an unavoidable part of being alive. Additionally, we seem to be living in a particularly high-stress time according to one recent indicator reported in the January 14, 2019 Los Angeles Times under the headline: “Mental health books outsell diet and exercise books at Barnes & Noble.”
“In a shift, American readers have become more interested in books about mental health than about diet and exercise, according to data released by bookstore chain Barnes & Noble.
The data, collected around the New Year’s season, seems to indicate that readers’ annual resolutions are focusing less on losing weight and getting in shape, and more on reducing stress and increasing self-esteem.” Michael Schaub
According to research, kindness is contagious and can lead to elevated feelings. In “Kindness Contagion,” a recent article in Scientific American, Jamil Zaki explains:
“Witnessing kindness inspires kindness, causing it to spread like a virus…We find that people imitate not only the particulars of positive actions, but also the spirit underlying them. This implies is that kindness itself is contagious, and that that it can cascade across people, taking on new forms along the way.” Jamil Zaki
I suppose there are many reasons why this is so, but I think fundamentally there’s great hope, healing, and joy when we feel seen by another. If you find yourself catching the kindness bug this year, and taking on new forms from my experiences, here are two simple ways to inspire others and uplift the common mood.
1: Post about your action on Instagram using hashtag #KindInKind.
2: Write about what you did and get in touch via this blog. I’ll share your story, either anonymously or giving you credit, whichever you prefer.
Speaking of credit, my favorite photographer, Susan Greene Photography, gets all the credit for Super Blood Wolf Moon Lunar Eclipse photos.