Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Kindness Project: The Transformative Power of Pain and Kindness

Too often kindness is relegated to a random act performed only when we’re feeling good. But an even greater kindness (to ourselves and others) occurs when we reach out even when we aren't feeling entirely whole. It’s not easy, and no one is perfect. But we’ve decided it’s not impossible to brighten the world one smile, one kind word, one blog post at a time. To that end, a few of us writers have established The Kindness Project, starting with a series of inspirational posts. We post the second Wednesday of every month.

The Transformative Power of Pain and Kindness

So I did it. I got the tattoo.

Do good anyway.

On my back of all places. High up, right between my shoulder blades.

I know, right? Right where I can't see it. But I know it's there. I can feel it when someone is standing behind line maybe--or anywhere. It's really weird how that happens. It's like there's a static charge generated in that space between their eyeballs and the words below my neck. People rarely say anything. Only one has said to me, "Mother Teresa?" and I nodded and smiled. But always I know when they've seen it. It's in their eyes, you see. In that wrinkling of their foreheads as they walk away.

Do good anyway.

You know what made me decide to get the tattoo on my back and not on my ribs or my hip as I'd planned? Ultimately, it was the reaction of my tattoo artist upon seeing the paper I handed him with the words I wanted tattooed.

Do good anyway.

The three words were repeated over and over in different fonts, little stars marking the lines of the fonts I liked best. My artist was silent a moment, staring at the paper in front of him. After a while he finally said, kind of quiet, "I don't know what this means to you, but it's exactly what I needed to see today." And then he teared up. No joke. He teared up. "Things have really sucked for me lately." I nodded and said, "I understand." And then we smiled at each other, that knowing, sad smile of understanding shared between people that have been to dark places. We didn't really say much else about the meaning, just discussed some details, like possible placement and pain and please let me take something beforehand. But as I set to walk away, he asked me where it came from. I told him and he got that look in his eyes, that wrinkling in his forehead. "Huh. Mother Teresa?" he said. "Mother Teresa," I said.

As I walked out, I felt him watching me. And I knew the words would get inked on my back. Like, no question.

It's weird how sometimes you think you're doing something for yourself only to realize that it's not just for you. It's not really about you at all. Sort of like the stories I write. It starts out about me, exorcising demons maybe. Getting the stories out of my head and into print where they take up less space. But once they're consumed by others, they're not mine anymore. Not really.

That's what kindness is. It starts out as yours, and then when it's consumed, it's not even about you anymore. Hell, the kindness isn't even yours at that point. The release, though--that's yours. There's a large degree of unburdening that results from kindness. I'm totally serious. It's like that tattoo on my back. I had it inked on my body because I needed it there--I needed the transformative pain of it, that etching of my skin to remind me of the meaningful words. But I don't need to see them to know they're there. The act is done. Pain is over. Now, it's time to pass it on--not the pain, but the transformative power of it.

Let me see if I can better explain in terms that might more readily apply to you. Say you're at the store. Some jackwad runs his cart into the back of your legs and instead of apologizing, he tells you to "Watch it!" Then maybe when you get in line at the checkout, another jackwad cuts in front of you. With coupons and a freaking archaic checkbook. At this point, you're so over it. Why the hell did you think you could just run into Walmart for a gallon of milk which you had to walk all the way to the back of the monstrous store for anyway? It's 9 PM, still hot as blazes outside and you've got a roast of a headache. And then some thousand-year-old lunatic approaches you from behind, his hair standing on end, talking non-stop about his wife's peach cobbler. He sees the peaches in your basket, see, the ones you grabbed on a whim on the way in because they looked so good. "Her cobbler won dozen of prizes back in the day," he says, smiling wide and a little toothless. His breath is a bit foul, actually.

You have a few options at this point. You can brush him off--"excuse me," you could say, ignoring him and pushing your way to the register. Or you can nod, smiling politely, trying really hard not to roll your eyes as you turn away. OR...oooor you can smile. For real. Take a deep, cleansing breath. Let the jackwads go. Forget the heat, forget your aching head. And hold on to the now moment that allows you to walk through an air-conditioned store and buy a cold gallon of milk and beautiful, ripe peaches. In that letting-go unburdening moment, kindness is born. And you will realize this man's wife may be dead. Or not. But he's obviously longing for someone to talk to. And you will say, "Is that so? How did she used to make it?"

The conversation may only last a brief moment. But it's real and genuine, just like the smiles shared between you. And in that very moment of real, genuine kindness, you may both be transformed. Maybe not in a huge way. But every little bit counts. Every little bit helps to shape us.

You never know how your act of kindness--the one that is now his--will affect him. Maybe he'll forget. But it doesn't matter; the kindness isn't yours anymore. The release though--the unburdening? That's yours. And as you walk away, maybe you'll see that wrinkling of his forehead, that look in his eyes.

Or maybe...he'll see that look in yours.


Be sure to check out the rest of the July posts for The Kindness Project:

Alina Klein                             Katharine Owens
Andrea Hannah                      Len Lambert
Barbara Watson                     Liza Kane
Carolina Valdez Miller            Lola Sharp
Christa Desir                          Lindsay Scott
Claire Hennessy                     Matthew MacNish
Elana Johnson                        Michele Shaw
Elizabeth Davis                      Sarah Fine
Elizabeth Poole                      Sara Larson
Erica Chapman                      Sara McClung
Jessica Corra                         Sophia Chang
Leigh Moore                          Tracey Neithercott


P.S. I've announced the winner of my ARC of SKYLARK by Meagan Spooner. Check it out HERE. Maybe it was you? Huge thanks to all who entered! I hope you'll check in for more reviews and giveaways later.

Also, Meagan Spooner is hosting a giveaway of her own. a HUGE giveaway, in which everyone will win something. And if you're lucky, you'll win an ARC of SKYLARK. Go check it out. You don't want to miss this.