In today’s reading from Micah, we are reminded what God requires of us. He requires of us to do justice and to love kindness.
A story of kindness can warm our heart…and a story of unkindness can break our heart.
I recently heard a story about a mother who was taking her 23-year-old son to the movie theater over the Christmas holiday. Her son has autism. As they sat waiting for the movie to start, she marveled at how they were a part of the audience, just like everyone else, enjoying a day with family. She was feeling unity with all the other people in the theater, yet she knew that life with autism is predictably unpredictable. As the first preview started, with the volume turned on high, her son, Max, covered his ears and shrieked, “I want to go home!” She leaned into Max and tried to offer him comfort, but he continued to yell, “I want to go home!”. As this mom tried to help her son make his way to the aisle in a dark theater, the people around them exploded with aggravation. One man asked, “Are you going to make him be quiet?” Another woman said, “Just because he has a problem, why should we have to suffer?”. As Max and his mom were leaving the theater, his mom heard a rumbling in her ears. The rumbling grew louder and she realized that it was applause from the audience. It was applause for their exit. She wrapped her arms around her son and they left the theater.
As much as that story can break your heart, I have one that will warm your heart. It is the story of a mother who boarded a plane with her 3-year-old daughter. This mom knew that her daughter would open and close the window shade throughout the flight, so she made a decision to take the window seat herself and gave her daughter the middle seat. As she watched others board the plane, she wondered who would sit by her daughter, Kate. Would it be a college student? Would it be a grandmotherly woman? And then a man with a briefcase took the seat. Immediately, Kate started rubbing his arm….she liked the feel of his soft jacket. She said, “Hi, Daddy.” Kate was not confusing this man with her own Daddy. She was making a judgment about his safety. She called him Daddy because she knew he was alright. During the flight, he engaged Kate in conversation, and asked her about some of the toys she had with her that day. The interaction went on and on throughout the flight. By the end of the flight, Kate had reached her limit. She was trying to get out of her seatbelt and she was screaming. The man tried to redirect her attention back to her toys, but she was too far gone. For Kate’s mother, it did not matter that his efforts did not work to help her calm down….it simply mattered that he had tried.
These two examples are extreme examples of kindness and how cruel life can be without kindness. It is easy for us to understand with these extreme examples how beautiful kindness can be or how ugly the world can be without it. In life, often our decisions to be kind are not always so obvious.
I remember a time when I was in sixth grade and the whole class was planning a field day, a whole day of sporting events. Back in sixth grade, I had my group of friends….4 or 5 other girls who were interested in the same activities as me, who liked the same music as me…they were just a lot like me. There was another girl in my class named Debbie. We weren’t friends, but we weren’t not friends. She was nice, but she was quiet. When I think back about it, I don’t really know who her friends were…..or if she had friends. In preparation for the field day, she approached me and asked if I wanted to sign up with her for the 3-legged-race. I remember not knowing what to say. I knew that I wanted to spend that day with my own friends, so, after a pause, I said , “no, thanks. I don’t really like the 3 legged race.” I regret that. I wasn’t mean to her. I was actually kind of polite. But when I really think about what I regret in life, I go back 32 years in time to a day in sixth grade where I failed to be kind.
George Saunders, a writer and professor at Syracuse University wrote about this in a graduation speech to the Syracuse Class of 2013.
He suggests that becoming kinder happens naturally with age. His theory is that as we get older we get our butts kicked by life, people come to our defense and we learn that we are not separate from others. We become less selfish and more loving.
So if life is a gradual process of becoming kinder and more loving, we should try to hurry it up. His advice to the graduating class that day was not only try to be kinder, but speed it along. Start being kinder today. Start right now.
Kindness is a choice. I can’t go back and change the choice I made in sixth grade. But today, I can choose kindness. When given the choice, Err in the direction of kindness. When given the choice, be brave enough to choose love.