Quote of Inspiration

I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Atilla and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn't quite make out. I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn't make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.

Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Random Acts of Kindness

When I wrote my list of 52 Figs, a lot of them were hair-brained, off-the-top-of-my-head ideas that just came to me.

Performing a random act of kindness every day for a week was one of them.  It just sounded good.  I really had no fear of not doing it, and I wasn't sure what I would get out of it.  I just threw it on the list.

But I feel that this is a perfect moment to embark on this fig, because life is difficult right now, and when life is difficult, kindness matters.

We are about to move…again.  I am somewhat apathetic about this move, perhaps because I don't want to fully admit how upset I am to leave North Carolina, how afraid I am to live through a Northern winter and how nervous I am to know that we will move again in another year, to parts still unknown.

As has been a theme throughout this blog, fear plays a central role in all of this.  I am afraid I will become depressed without enough sunlight.  I'm serious about this.  Rainy, gray days really do a number on me.  We're also in a city (small though it may be) and sometimes gray city life is worse than gray country life.  So, I am afraid I will slowly become unable to get out of bed, stop working out, stop eating well and start slowly disintegrating.

So, this is a time of change and transition, which means everyone is on edge.  We are on edge with excitement, anticipation, fear, curiosity, sadness…you name it.  We are on edge.

I have experienced this before, and my usual MO is to just plow through it.  One day, I'll be on the other side.  It will be over.

Isn't that sad?  To plow through it?  Even if it's difficult (which it will be), the plowing means that I miss the goodness of it too.  And anyway, at 38, I've learned that even when we plow, when we think we're passing it all by, we absorb it, all of it.  I'd rather not plow this time.  I'd rather just let it be what it's going to be.

I don't want to try to focus on the positive, either.  That's kind of a sham, and I dislike it when people try to do that and, worse, try to make me do that.  Neither, then, do I want to focus on the negative.  What I'd like to do is simply focus on the moment, without judgement, so that I can experience it without needing to label it.

Easier said than done.

This is all coming to my point, however, which is I feel this is a lovely moment and opportunity for kindness.  Rather than stress about the filing system being under control, how many unpacked boxes are still in the basement or whether I should hire someone to clean the baseboards when we move, I would like enjoy these last weeks in a place we love, and I'd like to be kind to the people around me.  All of them.  The checkout ladies at Walmart who are always so kind to my kids.  The neighbors.  The school administration.  Our friends.

Most of all, though, I'd like to be kind to my family.  I'd like to come out of myself a bit, to stop thinking about how all of this is affecting me, and treat my children and husband with kindness.  Not syrupy kindness.  Not of course you can have two ice cream cones today kindness.  Just random kindness, gentleness, calmness.  Instead of ramping up to depart and head north, I'd like to slowly wind down, enjoy the last days we have in a place we love, be open to the feelings of my children as we start again and be patient with my husband who carries a lot of weight on his shoulders.

When I was in China, I learned that the Chinese are kindest to their family and close friends.  They are more brusque with strangers.  We are the opposite, I think, in America.  We are friendly, warm and kind with strangers and can sometimes be indifferent, selfish or rude with our loved ones.  In a perfect world, we'd be kind to everyone.  But for now, I'd like to focus my kindness and love toward my family.

What would happen if each day, rather than totaling up my husband's misdemeanors and perceived failures, I just treated him kindly, regardless?  What would that look like?  What would little moments of kindness look like with my children?  I do them now, of course, but in the back of my mind, I have expectations of behavior or appreciation.  My kindness is loaded.  And when I don't get back what I think I'm due, my kindness turns quickly to discontent and/or meanness.

So, it wasn't really kindness after all.

I am a score-keeper and tally-taker.  I keep a mental list of atrocities and hardship.  I don't forget.  I often failure at forgiveness.  I prepare myself for the worst and when it happens, I cynically remind myself:  told you so.

I would argue that the only person I'm hurting is myself, but that is not true.  I hurt the people around me, and while the cuts aren't necessarily big, they are deep.

For the next week, I will be practicing kindness to all but with a heartfelt focus on my family.

I have no idea how this will go.  Will I still expect something in return?  Will I want to say to them:  look…look….I gave you something!  I did something for you!  Don't you see?  Don't you appreciate me?

What will happen if I simply engage in acts of kindness without an expectation of reciprocity?  Or acknowledgement?  Will they notice?  Will it change anything at all?

I have no idea.  But I'm about to find out.


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