Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Prepping the House

Scrape, scrape. Tap, tap, Bang, bang. Out on the scaffolding outside my window, the painters are prepping the house before beginning the new paint job. Better to get rid of all the flaked and chipped paint from the last twenty years than simply try to paint over it. 


Hard as it is to believe in the wake of everything that's happening, might we have entered a new era where kindness is—or at least, is on its way to becoming—  the new norm? Every day as I walk or bike through Golden Gate Park, I pass the electronic sign that reminds us all to “Go slow. Be kind.” In my school, the new children and teachers and even guests visiting the campus always remark, “Everyone was so nice to me!” In my own life, I do my best to treat the actual people I meet with some measure of kindness and lo and behold, I feel it coming my way as well. 


Think of every book you’ve read or movie you’ve watched about the new kid in school  and you’ll see that "in the old days" the kids felt that it was their job to taunt, tease and even torture the kid just for the crime of being new. The teachers looked the other way and also accepted it as “just the way things are.” But are they? They seem to be the way things have been, but much that was accepted as "the way things are" changed when people made better choices. You know the list. (Start with human sacrifice.)


I’m re-reading Wilkie Collins’ book  Armadale (written in the mid 1800's) and when a wayfarer falls sick and a young man, without knowing anything about him, helps take care of him and treats him kindly, it feels like an exceptional act. As described later by the wayfarer himself:


“ Remember what my experience of other men had been when I first saw his hand held out to me, when I first heard his voice speaking to me in my sick room. What had I known of strangers’ hands all through my childhood? I had only known them as hands raised to threaten and to strike me. His hand put my pillow straight, and patted me on the shoulder, and gave me my food and drink. What had I known of other men’s voices, when I was growing up to be a man myself? I had only known them as voices that jeered, voices that curses, voices that whispered in corners with a vile distrust. His voice said to me, ‘Cheer up! We’ll soon bring you round again. You’ll be strong enough in a week to go out for a drive with me in our lovely country lanes.' … I love him! I love the very ground he treads on! I would give my life—yes, my life that is so precious to me now, because his kindness has made it a happy one.”


Kindness matters. Kindness is possible. It is both a personal and collective choice to use our hands to strum strings, write poetry, paint pictures, tenderly caress or to threaten with clenched fists, strike or God forbid, pull triggers. It is both a personal and collective choice to use our voice to sing, to speak truth, to give encouraging words, to whisper sweet endearments or to shout, scream, tell lies or speak hate. Neither is just "the way things are." They are what we create by the choices we make.


Scrape scrape. Tap tap. Bang bang. Maybe—just maybe— the maddening din and clatter of the daily news is simply prepping the house for a long overdue paint job, the needed prelude to beautifying the house we live in. May it be so. 

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