Tag Archives: Kindness

On seeing and saying

Most mornings when I walk the dog over near our town’s athletic fields, there are between two and four South Asian men (Pakistani? Indian? Sri Lankan? None of the above?) practicing cricket pitching and batting on the fenced-in basketball court. I’ve been seeing them there pretty regularly for a year or two, except when the court is covered in snow or ice. On rare occasions, there is a police car parked nearby, with an officer watching these men.

A year ago, after the arrest of the guy who attempted to bomb Times Square, there was a big FBI raid on a house near us. Apparently, one man in the house recently pleaded guilty to illegal money transfers, one of which ended up inadvertently going to the guy who attempted to bomb Times Square. I say “inadvertently” because that is what the plea agreement says, not because I have any inside knowledge of the case. At the time, I remember wondering if any of the cricket practicers had been caught up in that. They continued to show up for their practice sessions, though, so I assumed that they were not among those who got arrested that day.

As a result of when and where I walk my dog, I have a lot of coincidental encounters with people who are probably accustomed to being profiled as suspected or potential terrorists. In my rational brain, I know that the possibility that these people are up to no good (or even evil) is extremely remote. It is far more likely that they’re simply sharpening their cricket skills or getting their exercise in the early morning hours before going off to their jobs, or to prayer, or to school, or whatever they do with their days.

Since the month of May ushered in news of Osama Bin Laden’s death, and as news has trickled out about the information recovered at his compound, I’ve wondered what life has been like for these folks. To be frank, among my wonderings was whether the cricket players are, in fact, part of some long-term plot, and whether they’d go underground for awhile, post May 1. When I didn’t see them at all for most of that first week of May, my mind was a chaotic swirl of “What ifs.”

To my relief and confusion, I’ve seen the cricket players almost every day this week, but no police cars. I have always waved and said hello to these guys. When their cricket balls squeeze under the fence, I always pick them up and toss them back. There is no way for me to know if I’m making nice with men who are in some stage of planning something catastrophic. I wrestle with that every time I see them, and I hate it. I hate wondering, “Should I be writing down their license plate numbers, just in case? Why they don’t fix that dent in their car? Does it mean anything that they’re driving a minivan? Are the stuffed animals on the dashboard merely a diversion?” I hate being confronted with the evidence that my mind is even mildly infected by the paranoia-inducing message, “If you see something, say something.”

For whatever reason, something in today’s perfectly glorious spring morning provoked me to make a conscious choice to fight against my mild infection of paranoia. This morning, as I was picking up three stray cricket balls, I decided that, rather than throw them over the fence I would hand them to one of the guys. You know, have an actual personal interaction with him.

This stranger and his friends/family are part of my daily routine, and we are separated by many things, probably more than I can name. Under a festive blue spring sky, I focused on only one of the things that separated us: a pesky 12 foot high chain link fence. I smiled sympathetically at him. After all, this is the age-old problem of ball players throughout the world: the ball inevitably ends up on the other side of a fence, or in the yard of those people who don’t want other people in their yard, or into someone else’s game, or dozens of other possibilities. You either stop your game or practice to go get it, or you depend on other people to help you out.

Today, I did see something – the man’s stray cricket balls. Then walked over to the fence, reached my hand through the gap in the gate and, one by one, handed him the cricket balls. I did say something: “Here you go.” He reached his hands out to take them, grinned and nodded at me. Then he said something: “Thank you. Thank you very much!”

Kindness

I found Kindness under my dresser this morning, next to the earring I had dropped.  Kindness was a bit tattered, from having been carried around in my pocket on and off since I picked it out of a basket of business-card-sized words at the beginning of Lent.  My other options included Love, Hope, Faith, Mercy, and Joy.  Back in February, we were encouraged to take a word before leaving church – something to carry around with us, to meditate on, to pray about if we were so inclined.  Rather than hunt around for a word that I wanted, I closed my eyes, dug into the basket full of words and pulled out Kindness.

I had carried Kindness around for awhile in my pocket, where it kept company with receipts, various amounts of cash, the occasional stray credit card I’d forgotten to return to my wallet, and wads of plastic poop bags that I need when I walk my dog.  For awhile, I was really good about always putting Kindness in my pocket at the beginning of each day.  Eventually, Kindness got buried under the pile of small papers that always seem to collect on my dresser when I empty my pockets at the end of the day.

I hadn’t even realized that Kindness had gone missing until I found it this morning.  I don’t even know how Kindness got under the dresser, wedged under the dog’s bed, with just the “ness” sticking out – the bold blue letters surrounded by the feathery cross-hatching from blue and purple pencils.  As soon as I saw it, I remembered coloring this Kindness.  Sitting at the square metal table in the women’s unit of a local prison where I volunteer weekly, I spent one frigid January evening intently decorating Kindness, while sticking my tongue out of the corner of my mouth, a habit even my evil first grade teacher couldn’t banish.

Carrying Kindness around in my pocket today felt different than it did in February.  Maybe Kindness likes the warmer weather, the longer days, the lighter-weight jackets of the New England spring.  More likely, though, I’m just more open to Kindness a short two months later.  I’ve been liberated from a job that was poisoning my spirit and crushing my soul.  When your heart is hard – whether it’s for self-defense or from spiritual dehydration or from some other kind of deprivation – it can be hard to squeeze Kindness out of it.  Just as softer lemons are juicier, so is a softer heart.  Kindness is the juice.  Kindness is also a piece of paper that I found under my dresser today.

Maybe I’ll lose track of Kindness again.  Maybe Kindness will fall into the trash can, or get vacuumed up, or accidentally shredded with some old receipts.  Or maybe I’ll have Kindness for such a long time that it will get so worn and crinkled I won’t be able to read it anymore.  If any of those things happen, I’ll color a new Kindness to carry around with me.  In fact, maybe I’ll just color a whole stack of Kindesses, so I can hand them out, like business cards or coupons.  Here.  Here is Kindness.  Don’t worry about losing it.  I’ll make more.