The Power of Kindness
“What are you doing for the holidays?” my friend asked me as we were eating dinner together a few weeks Christmas.
I explained that we going to see my spouse’s family out of town for a few days. “But I’m not sure how well I’m going to do with it,” I told her. We had just lost my father-in-law a few months ago and the holidays were something we had shared with him every year for the last twenty-five years. He was always part of our holiday routine: he went to church with us, opened gifts with us, attended our extended-family get-together. We were grieving him, and facing the holidays without him felt incredibly sad for all of us.
“Can I meet you in Minnesota after your family holiday?” my friend asked. “Maybe we could get a house spend a few days together in Minneapolis?” I was rather stunned and taken aback by her kind offer. “It would give us an experience out of town and it could be fun,” she went on.
So we made lodging arrangements, and my friend her two kids drove up to the twin cities from Iowa City on the day after Christmas and spent a couple of days with me and my husband and two son doing fun things.
Her kindness helped all of us tremendously. Before she came we had made it through a tough few days; we were sad but we also felt a lot of love and were extra supportive of each other. Having something to look forward to was very helpful. After my friend arrived we became tourists in our home state, seeing sites and museums that we hadn’t visited in a long time. We were able to laugh and enjoy the company of others at a time when we were in the midst of something really hard.
Recently a colleague and I have been talking about kindness, what it means to us and in the work we do. Kindness, particularly toward ourselves, is healing in a way that few things are. It helps us face hard things and soothe over rough edges. It helps us normalize our feelings, tolerate our distress, and rebuild ourselves after we’ve been hurt.
The kindness of my friend when she offered to travel to Minnesota to spend time with me and my family after Christmas was incredibly gracious and helpful. And I had to do my part to take advantage of her gesture—her gesture required some things of me.
First, I had to admit that I was sad and grieving.
And I had to acknowledge it to myself first before I told my friend. Acknowledging that we are hurting can make us feel vulnerable and anxious. We often tell ourselves things like, “I should be able to handle this,” or “I just need to tough this out.” We may even question our feelings: “What’s wrong with me that I feel this way?” But when we can respond to ourselves like we would to a good friend, it makes it easier to be honest with ourselves about how we feel. I had to remind myself that it was normal to be sad and to grieve a recent loss at the holidays before I could admit those feelings aloud to my friend, which opened the door for her gesture..
The second thing that was my responsibility was actually receiving her support.
It sometimes takes a brave person to accept the good things others offer. It can be embarrassing or uncomfortable at times to be given a very generous gift, especially if we aren’t used to it. It can help to remember that all people suffer and all people need encouragement from time to time and we ourselves are no exception. Allowing others to comfort us or do something kind for us is a form of kindness toward ourselves. It strengthens our relationship with the other person too. It helps us all feel needed and more comfortable in this world full of challenges.
In this case, my friend’s kind gesture allowed my children to enjoy a light-hearted few days, being silly and laughing during various activities. It gave my spouse and me a few days of conversation with another adult, and it gave us all time to rest and recharge in the company of someone who understood the hardships we were facing.
The last part of this story is gratitude.
I feel gratitude to my friend for her gesture, gratitude to the universe for allowing us to continue to heal, and gratitude to myself for self-compassion.
So as you continue in this world, surviving the scariness and the hurt, please remember to be kind. Remember how it feels when others are kind to you and make it a priority to be kind to others. A kind word, a smile, or an action (no matter how small) can have a profound impact upon another person and on this spinning planet which we all inhabit together.