Our Wake of Kindness

Thank-you muffins

I started this blog before my dad, from whom I learned the importance of doing good unto others, was given just days to live. Soon, he will leave behind his wake of kindness. Hold tight–it’ll be a tsunami.

Dedicated to you, Dad, for all you’ve taught me.

Dear Friend,

Earlier this year, my hairstylist and I experimented with a new hair color. I was iffy about the results when I left the salon, and after a few days, decided the gray/blond was too silver/purple–like, really purple–so I went back in for a fix.

The failed experiment wasn’t a big deal since so few people would even see it. I was usually stuck at home with chronic health issues anyway, and even pre-COVID, I didn’t go out much. Besides, I had okayed the color experiment. I was 50% at fault, not that I was looking for anyone to blame.

Months later (after waiting-out the COVID salon closure), I returned to the stylist, who gave me a container of home-baked muffins as a thank you for not being upset. Upset about what? I thought, until she reminded me of the experiment. It moved me to tears (granted, not a difficult feat) and validated how I choose to live my life.

I avoid conflict. It’s a manifestation of my people-pleasing, my sensitive nature, my upbringing–too much to unpack here. But sometimes, what looks like conflict-aversion is really a choice to err on the side of kindness.

Choose to err on the side of kindness.

Like me, no one is perfect. Mistakes and misunderstandings happen. If I trust someone’s good intentions and if the consequences of whatever went wrong are minimal, I choose not to fight that battle.

It doesn’t mean I let people take advantage of me, or walk all over me–not anymore. And I’m better at holding people accountable for their mistakes, such as asking my stylist to fix my color. Only recently, through my journey to shed my people-pleasing, did I understand that kindness and assertiveness are not mutually exclusive.

The thank-you muffins reminded me of one of the first blogs I ever wrote, about my 2016 flu shot, when the CVS pharmacist asked me to relax my arm.

“I would hate to hurt you,” she said, “You’re always so nice.”

It’s that noticeable? I thought. I pictured the hundreds of times I’d walked through the aisles and stood at the pharmacy counter. The thousands of interactions with staff and other customers. The times I’d complimented the manager on his employees’ exemplary service. I didn’t think the pharmacist even knew who I was, but not only did she know me, she knew me. She was right–I am nice. Feeling the color rise in my cheeks, I thanked her.

“Nice” is the public face I try to present to the world. Part instinct, part intention, it is who I imagine myself to be, who I want to be. And, although I didn’t know the distinction in 2016, I am also kind.

The flu shot scene was great fodder for my blog, but I was stymied by this question: How do I write about being nice without sounding self-righteous?

When writers get personal on the page, they are advised not to indulge in Look how great I am prose because it’s a turn-off for readers. We’re in this together is more relatable. But I was too new to figure out the nuances. I ended up questioning if being kind really matters, though I knew the answer was unequivocally “yes.” And now, thank-you muffins in hand, I had proof.

Kindness matters.

Your kindness matters to the hairstylist and the pharmacist and the grocery store cashier and the stranger for whom you left the last roll of toilet paper on the store shelf. It matters to the person whose life may be falling apart, when your smile gave them a moment’s relief. It matters when hate fills our airways and our psyches and threatens to poison the world. People don’t always speak up when they’ve received a kindness, but that doesn’t mean they don’t notice. And if they didn’t consciously notice, neural connections in their brain still register the transaction and store it permanently. Your kindness becomes part of them.

When we die, I believe we leave a wake on this earth caused by our actions. Our wake can push people under, or give them a footing to rise above the moment, and get a clearer view of the challenges facing them. I choose the latter. People-pleasing may be one of my character flaws, but kindness is not.

Kindness is not a character flaw.

In honor of my dad, whose kindness, generosity, and selflessness have lifted up so many people in his 88 years, I ask you to consider your wake. Especially in the coming months, when almost half of our fellow Americans will be hurting and scared even more than they are right now, the world needs all the kindness we can muster. Fight for what you believe, hold politicians accountable, demand the truth, and, most importantly–VOTE. And leave a wake you’ll be proud of.

All the best. Stay safe and well.

Karen

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5 thoughts on “Our Wake of Kindness”

  1. Once again, Karen, you have said it all. I think, perhaps, that many of us go back and forth between getting stepped on, standing up for ourselves in a good way, going overboard when trying to stand up for ourselves, and, as you put it, just being kind. What fine lines there are between all these choices. Thanks go to your Dad for all those years of kindness to the world.

  2. I am one of your mother’s Gathering members. I just heard about your Dad last night from Patty. Please know my love and prayers are being sent for your Dad. Soon he will be able to be with your mom and hopefully they both realize how they have been models of living a life well lived.♥️

    1. I’m sorry for the delay in replying to your beautiful sentiments, MaryEllen. You probably heard that my dad passed peacefully on Friday. I’m sure he and my mom are both smiling down on you for thinking of them.

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