Mind Matters — Kindness

Twenty-five years ago in an early spring snow, my husband rushed me to a hospital in Pittsburgh from our little “farmette” in the outlying countryside. I was pregnant and hemorrhaging, losing hope that this would be any different than any other miscarriage I had had. When we reached the city, our night flight caught the attention of a patrol car. They stopped us and then escorted us to the hospital. The important point to note here is that as I was about to get out of our car, the police woman stopped me; and, looking kindly, she said, “Wait, we’ll get you a wheelchair. You don’t know that this is a miscarriage.” I never forgot her care or the attention of the nurses that night. Three months later our son was born—six weeks premature, but healthy.

I remember this event from time to time and I hope the best for those caring people. I consider too the man and his family who stopped for my son and me twelve years later when we were stuck with an electrically dead car in a perilous location on Route 95. That lonely night no police appeared and it was almost two hours before our human angel took the risk to stop for a mother with a twelve year old. Cell phones were not de rigueur yet and clearly no one who had one even bothered to alert the police of the stranded strangers waving frantically by their Colt Vista. But one man’s kindness I will never forget.

There are moments in all our lives, I would bet, where someone has come to bring comfort and aid—even in the most simplest of gestures with brief words of concern or a simple hug.

For me, this week, the shoe was on the other foot. I volunteered with the Red Cross in greeting the Lebanese American evacuees arriving at the Philadelphia airport. After a rugged, exhausting, and often frightening departure from Lebanon, families came to Philadelphia, each with their own story—many leaving some part of family behind—a spouse or parents still trying to salvage their work or their business, or an extended family of grandparents, cousins, brothers, sisters, aunts, and uncles.

One story particularly affected me—I met two young university students, a Lebanese American brother and sister, close in age to my own children. Their parents sent them out of Lebanon while they remained behind trying to keep together what they began there seven years ago. I hugged them goodbye and wished them well as they trekked to the train to New Jersey, thinking of their journey ahead, thinking of my children, wondering about their parents.

The people we greeted were grateful for our presence and for whatever was offered to help their transition here. No altruism is pure but I did hope that we touched these people’s lives in the ways my life had been touched by the kindness of those who have cared.

The word kind itself etymologically means natural. When we are kind we are being natural and seeing connection, seeing that there is no “us and them”, but that we are all “our own kind,” all in relationship. Recent discoveries in neuroscience report that killing other human beings and being violent actually is not the natural course of things. We need to be trained to kill to override our natural instinct to preserve life.

Ironic isn’t it that we eschew what is really our human condition—kindness and connection—and instead work to extinguish our natural impulse with the myth that killing and violence will somehow be a solution. We can return to our nature when we recognize the ultimate connectedness of us all.