Tucson in Healing and Kindness

Crying Giant, Tom OtternessIt’s been a hard few days. It doesn’t promise to get easier any time soon.

The nation has mourned at our sides, and that is appreciated more than you can know. Each phone call and email, each DM and Facebook message means the world.

And yet each of us mourns alone. The pain is overwhelming. Barely an hour passes without my eyes brimming over.

The post immediately preceding this one – my New Years post – notes that the overwhelming majority of each of our days is filled with kindness. Even in the horror of this weekend’s shootings, that still remains the case.

It is that kindness that has made the past few days bearable. As everyone I encounter falls somewhere between numb and grieving, there is a sense of solemnity, of gentleness – and yes, of kindness.

Shock-spawned words of anger and blame have quickly become words of reflection, of caution. And in all that, I realize that I have quietly and almost entirely unbeknownst to my very self, taken a vow of kindness.

What started as my immediate response to the news has grown quickly into a commitment, as I find I have vowed to ask, “What is kindness?” in every situation I encounter.

I have vowed to sit in practice with that question as if I were an 8 year old practicing her multiplication tables.  The easy part is being kind to those who are also being kind.  The real practice, though, is learning to be kind to those who make us feel boldly justified in being UNkind – the people we all encounter throughout each of our days, who we feel deserve blame, justice, retribution.

When it comes to those with whom I disagree, what is kindness?

When it comes to someone who may be treating me horribly, abusing me, treating me angrily – what is kindness?

When it comes to the pain felt by the young man who, clearly in more pain than I can imagine, perpetrated Saturday’s horrific act of violence – what is kindness?

In such situations, I have no idea what the answers will be. Sometimes kindness means being stern, walking the tough line of discipline. Sometimes it means separating ourselves from a situation. Sometimes it means finding alternatives to rebelling from the place of our own anger and pain.

Will I know the path of kindness when that path feels like a stretch? Will I take that path, or will I succumb to the only-humanness each of us feels, as we protect ourselves from the things that cause us fear?

There is one thing I do know for certain. And that is that the first steps towards building a world where kindness is our reflex will begin with each of us. In The Pollyanna Principles, I wrote, “Being the change we want to see means walking the talk of our values.” As happens so often, “walking the talk” means taking actual steps.

Which is what each of us can do, right now. We can each vow, right now, to explore, to practice, to learn what it would take to ask that single question, as many times as we can throughout the day – and to find our way to the answer.

In this moment, and in the next and the one after – with everyone I encounter, and everyone whose image passes through my mind – what is kindness?

With love and sadness to all who are mourning, not just here in Tucson, but everywhere…

8 Responses to Tucson in Healing and Kindness

  1. Hildy and Dimitri,

    Troy and I heard as we were driving back to Phoenix from seeing you in Tucson just the day before. Wow…

    Just please know how much the two of you are an inspiration for all that is good in the world.

    Here’s moving “toward”, together,
    In Spirit,
    Trae

  2. I read today that last Thursday thousands of Muslims in Egypt formed a “human shield” to protect Coptic Christians as they attended mass on Coptic Christmas Eve. (21 Copts been killed and 79 injured in a bombing in a church a few days earlier on New Year’s Day by Muslim terrorists.) I was deeply moved by this story – by the willingness of people to risk danger to themselves to protect strangers, to choose not to see people of a different religion as the “other”. Actually, more than moved – it gave me goosebumps. People would do that? For people they don’t know, practicing a different religion from theirs? Would I have the courage to do it in their situation? (I hope so.)

    Acts of terrorism are beyond comprehension, but acts of kindness like this make such comforting sense. So people can work together, can stop dividing the world into Us and Them? That’s “walking the talk”, as you say. And look – people are doing it all over the world. Taking actual steps.

  3. Alexandra – You remind me of the time I visited the Hiroshima war memorial years ago. As an American, I was anxious about how the museum staff (all Japanese) would feel about me and my American friends visiting the place our country flattened.

    I was blown away when they treated us with kindness and magnanimity. When I asked them why they would not be angry, they said “It is because we suffered the greatest tragedy of war, it is our mission to teach the world how to create peace”.

    Maybe the Muslims in Egypt feel the same.

  4. This question is not rhetorical, but real. I am reading that people from the Westboro Baptist Church intend to picket the funeral of the 9 year old girl who died here on Saturday.

    What is kindness in the face of such ugliness?

    I am often struck by the Jon Stewart line, “If we don’t stand by our values when they are put to the test, they are not values – they are hobbies.”

    So then, I am struggling to find the answer. For those who would protest the funeral of a 9 year old girl, what is kindness?

  5. Kindness could be NOT allowing a troubled family led by a sociopathic leader (that’s all the Westboro Baptist Church is, denounced even by the KKK) to gain more attention and feed their delusions.

    I am wondering if there is any movement in Tucson to do as some other communities have done and show up in such numbers that any cruel protest is just drowned out and invisible? Check out the video in this post:

    http://voices.washingtonpost.com/blog-post/2010/11/westboro_church_meets_its_matc.html

  6. For me, the primary kindness would be shown to the mourners, which I hope will take the form of what Alexandra points to — protecting the mourners from the cruelty the WBC would inflict on them. I’ve seen various descriptions of how this has been done beautifully in other places, by showing up in overwhelming numbers and without violence.

    Kindness is the courage to stand up and do that on behalf of people who are suffering.

    While I am always seeking to understand people who see the world differently from me, it seems to me there is a point at which people earn shunning. WBC has chosen to cross that line. Perhaps I am insufficiently evolved 😉 but all I can muster for them is not to subject them to physical or verbal violence. Maybe that’s kindness in that context. (The children in the family … well, that’s another matter.)

    @John Haydon: In my early 20s, I had the honor of speaking to a huge crowd at the annual commemoration ceremony in Hiroshima, on behalf of a coalition of Hawaii-based peace groups. Like you, I was heartened by the warm welcome I received. It was a turning point in my life.

    Rambling thoughts … I’ve been thinking of you, Hildy, and my other friends in the Tucson area.

    Peace.

    Pam