Everything I know to be true of . . . kindness


I was in my room the other day, straightening my hair so as to better impersonate a certain sister of mine. No particular reason, a bit of fun, sort of a prank, maybe some children’s allowance money.

I was practising her uniquely languid way of walking when I stopped, remembering that I’m a teacher now and you birdies need your little grubs of knowledge.

In today’s lesson, I will tell you everything I know to be true about kindness.

This learning exercise is a role-play where you’re a studio executive and I’m a rookie screenwriter, pitching Kindness – The Movie. OK? I’ll start:

Scene I: A curly-haired woman tries to enter the driver’s compartment on a busy train, mistaking it for the restroom. She yanks at the locked door handle and shoulders the door angrily before realising her foolishness. Embarrassed, she quickly makes her way back through the carriage, making eye contact with a teenage boy as she goes. The boy saw her gaffe and is doing all he can to suppress his laughter. The woman shapes her fingers into a gun and pretends to shoot herself in the head, thereby giving him permission to laugh in that honking, rasping way of teenage boys.

Scene II: (explanatory flashback) A curly-haired four-year-old with a tummy bug lies in bed sadly. She listens to the ruckus of children downstairs and wishes she were part of it. The day stretches out. After lunch (lemonade flattened with hot water) she hears her grandmother’s voice and sits up, hoping she won’t be forgotten. The grandmother walks up the stairs in a brisk, practical way that makes the child realise she has come to visit her especially. Having an adult all to herself is an unprecedented thrill, but this afternoon she is too tired to show off. The grandmother doesn’t mind that the child is quiet and gives her a book to read, about a duck that can brush his teeth and hold down an office job. Then the grandmother sits at the end of the bed and rubs the child’s feet until she falls asleep.

Now, you respond. Oh dear. You’re not going for it. You’re thundering up from your leather chair and furiously stubbing out a cigar, yelling: “A goddamn footrub?! Inconsequential. I want grand gestures. Did the train crash? Was the boy a hero? Did the old dame give that kid a kidney? No? Then I’m not interested! You come in my office sellin’ me a finger gun, some screwy duck and a goddamn footrub? That ain’t kindness. That’s nothing, small stuff!”

Me again, on my feet: “I’m telling you Boss, you’re wrong, the small stuff is where it’s at, right there in those tiny moments that go unnoticed by most when one creature sees what another creature needs – a look, a touch, a word, a lift – and simply gives it to them, that’s kindness!”

You nod slowly, a broken-down bear, with something to think about.

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