We had an hours long conversation via Zoom. We spoke of parenting and how we had done our best but often worried that somehow we had made mistakes along the way. I suppose that all moms and dads remember moments when they might have done better. We long to help mold our young into healthy happy individuals but know that sometime we may have missed the mark at a critical juncture. Nonetheless if we have mostly been wise and loving our children will become the kind of adults that we wish to send out into the world. Being a parent is the most important and underrated job that we will ever do. It is trying and rewarding beyond measure, a source of worry and intense joy.
For every parent the day comes when our children leave the nest and begin life’s journey on their own. We pray that we have given them the tools that they will need to face a demanding and ever changing world. We hope that they will survive even when life rocks them and knocks them to the ground. We ask ourselves what advice we would give them if we had the opportunity to write a single phrase of guidance on a tiny slip of paper that they would forever carry in their pockets. What should they remember to do in any circumstance?
As I pondered this idea a host of ideas ran through my mind. I saw the word “persist,” a simple but important idea for moving forward through the trials and tribulations that are every human’s fate. Life can tempt us to give in and give up when things become difficult. If we refuse to be victimized by the ups and downs that will surely come our way we will endure time and again. Persistence is important but somehow it does not seem to be sufficient for living a good life.
We have all come upon a time when everything that we understood and believed was challenged in ways that all the determination in the world could not overcome. We realized that we hand to bend a bit or break entirely. In my own life there were moments of great change that required me to be open to new ways of living, the death of my father, my mother’s mental illness, the challenges of our current pandemic. These things required that I “be flexible.” Perhaps this is the real key to a good life. We have to know when we must adjust, not in a sense of defeat, but for the sake of living in a non static world.
Still, persisting in times of challenge, knowing when and how to be flexible while worthy ideas seemed not nearly enough advice for living a purpose driven and happy life. That’s when it came to me what I should write on that tiny slip of paper. The only words that seem to make sense in any situation are “be kind.” Perhaps in truth this can be one of the most difficult roads to travel because in so many instances people around us do not reciprocate the goodness that we may strive to spread.
I suppose that being nice is often viewed as being a sacrificial lamb when the true essence of kindness requires great courage and conviction. Nice people are often misunderstood, thought to be weak and unable to lead. They are sometimes bullied and pushed aside by angry disturbed individuals but history has shown us time and again that in the long haul the good guys are the winners if anyone is keeping score. They quietly stand up for what is right and just in every aspect of their daily lives. We do not always hear about such souls but when we know one we understand the joy and comfort that they spread far beyond their own needs. They are happy confident people who understand that love should be at the center of every decision that they make.
Life may be hard for someone intent on being kind but overriding any pain inflicted on them is a sense that they have discovered the secret to life. Literature and history is filled with stories of such individuals and family lore tells of that special person who was dedicated to spreading kindness wherever he or she went. We admire such people and long to be like them, wondering how we might also be so wonderful. The truth is that we all we need to keep reminding ourselves to be kind even when being so means standing up for others all alone.
Turning the other cheek never meant that we have to be the pawns of dark forces. We do not have to answer insult with insult, violence with violence, hate with hate to be strong. Demonstrating a kinder gentler way of dealing with problems and problem people is far more heroic than bellowing insults and threats.
I often think that the people that I have most admired have all shared kindness as their primary characteristic. They also seemed to be the most content with life. Their success was not measured so much in wealth or even power but in the level of admiration that people had for them.
My Uncle William was a humble man but his goodness was extraordinary. So too was a neighbor of ours, Mr. Barry, who many joked was a living saint. My mother had a life more challenging than most ever endure but people still remember her smile, her soft and soothing voice and her generosity of spirit. Being kind is a reward in itself so I suppose that what I really want to write on that slip of paper that my children and grandchildren will carry in their pockets all of their days is “Be kind!” Surely if they follow that advice happiness will follow them wherever they choose to go.