Thirsty for Kindness
Physician Richard Selzer describes a scene in a hospital room after he had performed surgery on a young woman’s face: I stand by the bed where the young woman lies, her face, postoperative; her mouth twisted in palsy, clownish. A tiny twig of the facial nerve, one of the muscles of her mouth, has been severed. She will be that way from now on. I had followed with religious fervor the curve of her flesh, I promise you that. Nevertheless, to remove the tumor in her cheek, I had cut this little nerve. Her young husband is in the room. He stands on the opposite side of the bed, and together they seem to be in a world all their own in the evening lamplight; isolated from me, private.
Who are they? I ask myself… he and this wry mouth I have made, who gaze at and touch each other so generously.
The young woman speaks.
“Will my mouth always be like this?” she asks.
“Yes,” I say, “it will. It is because the nerve was cut.”
She nods and is silent.
But the young man smiles. “I like it,” he says, “it’s kind of cute.”
All at once I know who he is. I understand, and I lower my gaze. One is not bold in an encounter with the divine. Unmindful, he bends to kiss her crooked mouth, and I am so close I can see how he twists his own lips to accommodate to her; to show her that their kiss still works.
I told this story to the group who gathered yesterday in Gardnerville, NV, and I had planned to tell this story for today’s Sabbath Moment. What I had not planned—or prepared for—was the news of the Texas mass shooting, and the ongoing Sudan conflict (where at least 500 people have died, and more than 800,000 people could be forced to flee). Sometimes, it’s as if my heart, literally, stops. And I know that religious platitudes don’t work for me anymore.
But here’s my confession. If I give in to the mental exhaustion (of being overwhelmed), I begin to believe (and internalize) that empathy can be overwhelmed, compassion can seem helpless, suffering can be too much to comprehend, and the level of public quarrel too much to absorb. Mercy. Bottom line: I forget that the kiss still works. For every single one of us.
Of course, it doesn’t help that we look for comfort through orchestrating our world—wanting all ducks carefully and neatly in a row. Well, it works for a wee bit. And then… life happens.
“Life,” Lucy tells Charlie Brown, “is like a deck chair.”
“Like a what?” asks Charlie Brown.
“Like a deck chair. Some people put their deck chair at the front of the ship so they can see where they are going. Some people put their deck chair at the rear of the ship so they can see where they’ve been. On the cruise ship of life, Charlie Brown, which way is your deck chair facing?”
“I haven’t figured out how to get mine unfolded yet.” says Charlie Brown.
Ahhhh. Wisdom. Bless you Charlie Brown.
But gratefully, here’s the deal: Tender and fragile is okay. It’s okay. There is nothing to fear or run from.
While I may have no magic to heal the pain and loss of others, or power to erase suffering from the world, I can stay grounded, and do what I can to help one person at a time (even myself), with small acts of kindness. I can show people that their kiss still works. And who knows, maybe small acts of kindness will make heroes of us all.
This one thing is undeniable: We are, all of us, thirsty for kindness. Gentleness. Meekness. And compassion.
The Kiss Still Works story offers a paradigm shift, to reclaim the self, and hydrate our soul.
“There is a paradoxical urgency at this time in history to slowing down,” poet Kim Rosen writes, “focusing on what matters, looking into each other’s eyes and speaking the truth.”
So. Two invitations…
One. Let us live grounded in sufficiency and grace.
Before we arrive or solve, we can simply be. Instead of seeking to abruptly pass through a threshold, we can pause. And in so doing, we learn, and know what we now carry.
Part of the weight is this: when I’m exhausted, it’s tempting to want to fix or make things right. And I forget the power of pausing, breathing, embracing, savoring, finding joy and grace and well-being… in the sacred present.
When we acknowledge the broken places (where nerves have been cut) (or unfolded deck chairs), there is now an open space, a place for gestation and receptivity (what the Japanese call “hollowness to the divine”), where new things are hatching and being born, if only we do not panic. These are the times and places from which we can truly and wholeheartedly, give of ourselves.
John Philip Newell’s reminder, “Do we know that within each one of us is the unspeakably beautiful beat of the Sacred? Do we know that we can honor that Sacredness in one another and in everything that has being? And do we know that this combination—growing in awareness that we are bearers of Presence, along with a faithful commitment to honor that Presence in one another and in the earth—holds the key to transformation in our world?”
Two. We spill this light using “small world” skills. Small world, the world we touch. Skills like compassion, empathy, understanding, and recognition of the other. The very skills that change lives one heart and one mind at a time.
Let’s take David W. Orr’s reminder into our week, “The plain fact is that the planet does not need more successful people. But it does desperately need more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers, and lovers of every kind. It needs people who live well in their places. It needs people of moral courage willing to join the fight to make the world habitable and humane. And these qualities have little to do with success as we have defined it.”
I’m back home and today, on my walk, met a new waddling of ducklings on a pond nearby. We’re still waiting for the goslings to say their first hello.
Wherever you are, savor your springtime.
Quote for your week…
“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a harder battle.” Plato
Today’s Photo Credit: “Wilton California. A Double Rainbow! My 92 year old mother-in-law even admitted this was the best rainbow she has ever seen. What a gift from above and a treat made for sharing!
Blessings to You Terry.” Melinda Jackson… Thank you Melinda… Thank you to all, keep sending your photos… send to terryhershey.com
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Help make Sabbath Moment possible. I write SM because I want to live with a soft heart; to create a place for sanctuary, empathy, inclusion, compassion and kindness… a space where we are refueled to make a difference. SM remains free.
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Letters that do my heart good…
–Dear Terry, Loved your quote for the week: how to revere, how to sense wonder and awe. I find myself, many times, in wonder and awe of a sunset, a sunrise, the moon, the clouds, the mountains, a lake, the forest, a garden. This is why people do not want to leave this earth even though the promise of heaven far exceeds the beauty of the earth. Just lost my Mom so I will certainly take your advice to pause and appreciate for she is someone I will dearly miss. Thank you for SM as it continues to remind me of the goodness and beauty in this world. Ann
–Terry, thanks so much. Everything is indeed holy if only we can notice it–the quick burst of sun through the clouds, the glow of cyclamen in my balcony window-box, the chance encounter with a friend who really needs a listening ear. Ongoing thanks for all you write! And much love to you, Anne
–Hi Terry, thanks for sharing “Holy Now”. I so enjoyed listening to it after my yoga session this morning. What a “sabbath moment.” Finding rest for my soul is sitting on my deck swing and watching the birds and listening to them give praise to our Creator. Blessings to you this May morning and what a blessing Gordon Lightfoot was with his music. God rest his soul. Donna
–So whenever I read and plant my eyes on your daily posts Sir, I’m enlightened and almost always cannot resist but share it! It’s just so you know the importance, thank you for spreading the power of calming, of innermost strength, constant rejuvenation, the ability to continuously, peeking within oneself, to silence ourselves and coaching by showing the path for the betterment of our existence! TY Sir! Dave
–This made me cry… and opened my heart to the joy, possibilities and blessings for me to find in living each new day. P
–Oh, my! This one blows me away! I can hardly wait for sunrise to search for miracles! Sunrise itself is one. So glad you began with no topic. Patti
POEMS AND PRAYERS
Paradoxically, we achieve true wholeness only by embracing our fragility and sometimes our brokenness. Wholeness is a natural radiance of Love, and Love demands that we allow the destruction of our old self for the sake of the new. Life did not intend for us to be inviolable. Jalaja Bonheim
Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.
Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.
Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
it is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you every where
like a shadow or a friend.
Naomi Shihab Nye