by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM February 23, 2020
The Australia brush fires have left in their wake not only catastrophic and irreplaceable losses in the human, animal, and plant kingdoms, but also enduring acts of kindness offered by those same communities. We’ve witnessed images of firefighters risking their lives to rescue endangered residents running from billowing flames. Border collies shepherding stunned koalas away from the fires. Wombats welcoming other animal species into the safety of their underground burrows. Perhaps we’ve also noticed that, in times of crisis, in the big issues of life, whatever differences we harbor seem to dissolve into expressions of help and support. No matter how long ago we may have been on the receiving end of such goodness, the memory of kindnesses past lingers with us.
Today might be a day to recall the heartswell, the quickening of spirit, the inner gratitude such experiences unleash. Today might also be an invitation to sit with a prayerful remembering of those who have blessed us with such profound kindness.
In the late 1990’s, I had moved into an apartment for the first time and was shopping for furniture to supplement the basics that family, friends, and community had given me. I needed two wooden chairs to accompany the small table I already had, so I stopped in to a furniture chain store and immediately experienced sticker shock. Clearly, my meager budget was no match for the displays in the showroom. As I was about to leave, a sales clerk approached to ask if I needed assistance. There were other customers in the store waiting to buy complete bedroom and dining sets, but this man listened with such attentiveness to my minor request that I felt as if I were his only concern of the day.
“Wait here, please,” he said, and disappeared, returning minutes later with two elegant wooden chairs. He confided that I was doing him a favor because, “Everyone else wants only sets of four chairs so these two have been sitting in our storeroom for a long time.” And then, as I held my breath, he quoted a price that comfortably matched the cash I had in my wallet. X-ray vision? Or a heart that took in the hopeful longing on my face?
I’ll never know, but nearly ten years later, I was once again visiting that furniture chain but in a different location. As I browsed the displays, I heard a man talking on the other side of the store and thought his voice sounded familiar. Could it be? I walked over and quietly asked the sales clerk if he had ever worked in the Bayonne store.
“Yes,” he answered, looking puzzled. So I shared my memory of how his kindness had allowed me to keep my dignity at a time when I had very limited means, how his attentiveness left me feeling heard and respected and a bit more at home in a strange new city. As I spoke, he began to weep, and I was concerned that my story had disturbed him.
“Oh, no!” he insisted. And then he proceeded to tell me that this week was his last before beginning his retirement. Although he was looking forward to the future, the transition had also surfaced some troubling questions in his soul. He wondered, had his lifelong job of selling tables and chairs and sofas, this work that supported his family, had a lasting impact? Had his faithfulness to showing up and treating customers with respect and fairness made any difference in his city? Had his efforts to be a listening presence to everyone he encountered brought meaning in some way to the larger world? Yes, yes, and yes, I answered. Because on a seemingly ordinary day in a seemingly ordinary place, the practice of kindness not only stays with us but also blesses and expands and continues out into the universe. Kindness remains.
Kindness, I believe, is one of the litmus tests of how we bear witness to the Holy among us: in the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), where compassion is expressed by crossing to the other side of the road to dress wounds; in the challenge of the Last Judgement (Matthew 25:31-40) where our ability to recognize the divine in suffering neighbors is a measuring stick of holiness; in the pouring of water into a basin (John 13:1-5), the washing and drying of the disciples’ feet, the final tender gesture of service by a person who knew his hour had come and who loved to the very end. In the day-to-day embodiment of the words, “You are here. That is good. You are not here. The fragrance remains.”
Long after the wildfires have been extinguished by the collective heroics of others, long after every story of pain or doubt or utter heartache has been listened to with unwavering attention, long after the last customer has purchased the last chair from the last store, we will remember how beautiful a day can be when kindness touches it, how beautiful a life can be when love surrounds it.
Sit in stillness with the Holy One.
Prayerfully reflect on a memory of a kindness shown to you.
How did that kindness look? sound? feel?
Bask in the remembering.
Offer your thanks and bless the person(s) who offered you such a gift.
Ask the Holy One to deepen your practice of kindness in all your encounters today.
As we enter into the season of Lent, know that I’m profoundly grateful for your kindness and support of me and my writing for Mining the Now. You and your intentions are held in my heart and in my prayers of gratitude. Lenten blessings!
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