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.









  1. Oh, did it! Wow, such a powerful message. This is the post you've been waiting to write. The reason you started this project. Well said, friend. Well said. Now I will pray that people GET IT! I struggle on some days, but what's important is to keep trying.

  2. Oh, what an amazing post! I love that you got that tattoo and that you will be spreading the word of kindness, without even having to speak, for the rest of your life. When you do speak, or smile, it will be the cherry on top.

  3. What a wonderful tattoo to get. And truly, it is one of those things that people need to see. I love this story--thank you for sharing it with us.

    And thank you for the contest love. Carol, you are amazing. <3

  4. LOVE it! What a great way to look at things. WHICH is one of the trajillion reasons I adore you so much. "Do good anyway." Indeed ;o)

    YOU are amazing. What a great message to live by <3<3 Something tells me you "do good anyway," quite a bit ;o) Great post!

  5. This might be my favorite post of yours ever. Love love love. I think Michele is right: THIS is the post you've needed to write.
    The pain you've been going through? it's growing pains. You are growing. And you're lovelier than ever.

    I'm proud of you.

    I know you know this, but I'll say it anyway: I love you.


  6. That poem,( prayer, whatever it is), by Mother Theresa changed my life about 13 years ago.

    I think you made a great choice!


  7. What you thought you did for yourself will change the lives of many--one read of your tattoo at a time.

  8. Oh Carol, you always hit the head right on the nail with these things. I love your tattoo, I love the reasoning behind it, I love the impact it will have--and did have on your tattoo artist. :)

    I also can't wait to get a tattoo with you! And I have my next one kind of planned (the birds I told you about) but I'm constantly on the look out for something representing kindness as well. You've totally inspired me. A permanent reminder to be kind is something I could well use--and would cherish maybe above all my other tattoos.

  9. It's a hot tattoo. Getting your text while I was out of town was like a secret gift.

  10. LOVE this. What a great post, and I love that tattoo. I want it now--LOL! No, that is the most inspirational quote I've read in a while. Me + your tattoo artist. :o) <3

    you DO spread the kindness. Thank you!

  11. Wow, what a beautiful post. I can't truly convey how inspiring this is, but thank you for putting into words the awe and power that is in every act of kindness.

  12. This is Sooooo good. Thank you so much for writing it!!! LOVE :)

  13. first off, pic of the tat!! Or maybe not, because then it will make me want to rush out and get another one.
    Second, great post! As usual. My MN nature would be to just smile politely, but sometimes i can go out of my comfort zone and strike up a conversation

  14. I love this post. I love how you remind us to think of the impact your actions have. It's too easy to forget how something that means nothing to you could mean everything to someone else.


    And PICTURES PLEASE! (You had to know this was going to happen :D)

  15. That's a wonderful story, Carolina! It does only take a brief moment to brighten someone's day.

  16. I love every letter of this post. And I maybe teared up too. I want your tattoo artist.

  17. I love this post! I also love that your tattoo can have such an impact on others simply by reading it. :)

  18. Oh, this post made me a little breathless. Thank you, Carolina! I feel like every time I come back to your blog after I've been gone for a while, you give me something so meaningful. So I guess I should really visit more! Thank you!

    Btw, will we get to see the tattoo? :)

  19. Carol, I love you so much. This made me cry. You are such an inspiration to me and though I won't ever get a tattoo, I really want to display that quote somewhere in my home where I can see and remember it all the time. It is SO powerful. Just like this post. Thank you. <3 <3

  20. How do you do this? How do you write these posts that make me know the man with the peaches, and say a prayer that every time I see him I am a better person than I have been? Your posts give me hope that I can be kinder, more patient, and convince me that I must strive to be. The words deliver me to the tattoo parlor and I see the man's tears, and feel the core of you beating, and the clear, compelling necessity of the words that now live on your back, though they have probably have always lived in your soul. Oh, Carol. You are such an open heart.

  21. That's extremely cool, Carol. I have no doubt that that little message will have a positive effect on others, in ways you will probably never know. Such a beautiful post!

  22. Oh wow, I have tears in my eyes. What a beautiful post. Love the old man analogy and your tattoo. Do Good Anyway. Thank you.

  23. Hi, Carolina! What a powerful message to share in a tattoo. If more people do random acts of kindness, just think of how many more smiling people we'll see in the world.

  24. You made me all teary eyed. I love that quote and have used it often in my classroom. I'll think of you each time I use it now. You're good people, Carol :) *hugs*

  25. See??? Even more reason I need to get this tatt!

  26. A tattoo?? Ow. My one and only one - I blacked out for the pain. The guy giving me that tattoo only charged me half price! Oooh that's kindness of sorts! Take care

  27. I love the message that kindness starts out is yours and then takes on a life of its own. I think sometimes we forget that kindness isn't weakness, but instead incredible strength. Because as someone who flips her lid like you would not believe, it takes all the strength in the world for me to do the "kind" thing sometimes. Lovely post. Lovely tattoo. You need wings next.

  28. You totally made me cry with this, but in a good way! This is such a beautiful message. And now I'm dying to see that tattoo!

  29. I just love you.

    And peach cobbler.

    But mostly you.

    (Also, I totally want to get that same tattoo now, but I'd feel like I was copying. So I'm going to hold out for my own tattoo idea that will express such a positive outlook on life; and in the meantime, please know I think you're amazing for not just talking the talk, but walking the walk. And I also believe this project is SO incredibly worthwhile.)

    How's that for a long parenthetical statement?

    Thanks for the smile on my face today.
    I needed that. And I'm not even a tattoo artist.

  30. You are positively the coolest person ever!

  31. I get that kind of feeling whenever a premature baby grabs a hold of the end of my finger with his or her hand. It is electric.

  32. Carolina,
    You are inspiring me! I love this story, and I am so thrilled you got the tattoo. I have been thinking about Mother Theresa's words constantly since last month's post. LOVE this.

  33. Your post made me tear up. Your tattoo will not only be a reminder to you, but all who see it.
    It really isn't hard to be kind. To strangers. To family. I need to be more patient with my family!

  34. Wow. That was a freaking amazing post. So often I'm lost in my own world and I forget how easy it is to not see the people around me. Mother Teresa's words you had inked on your back held meaning to me before, but it's this post that gave them a better context. Thank you.


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