Slow Down And See [on Two Artists Tuesday]

kindnessSCHITTSCREEK copy

There is a theme emerging in my posts this week. Substance vs. the appearance of substance. The flattening of importance.

During an exceptionally stressful and contentious period this summer, we streamed the entire run of Parenthood. Six seasons of escapism!  “Let’s go to  California,” we’d say, all too ready for a leap out of reality. And then, in a moment of horror, the episodes of Parenthood ran out. Our escape hatch closed with a bang. In desperation we surfed and landed in Schitt’s Creek. It was a series a bit too relevant to our circumstance and we howled when one of the characters, in the face of kindness, said that she’d been raised to see that “kindness is a sign of weakness.”

“That’s our problem,” Kerri said, “we see kindness as a virtue.” She was raised to be kind.

That night we had a long discussion about kindness and its general absence in public discourse.

I’ve been thinking much about our conversation since we found ourselves meditating on kindness in Schitt’s Creek. This is my observation: mean is easy. It is fast. Like all forms of reactivity and thoughtlessness, meanness and contention are elementary.

We are surrounded by friends who are kind.  They are kind because they cultivate kindness, thoughts of others, as essential to their character. That’s why we are attracted to them. We are the recipients of unbearable gifts of kindness through our friends. They break us open. They make us bigger.

Kindness is a virtue. It is also a strength. And, it takes time. Kindness is like poetry. It takes development and some higher order thinking.

Lions eat zebras for food. People hurt people for a lesser reason.

In a world obsessed with speed, it is all too easy to run past substance in pursuit of the superficial. Slowing down, taking some time to see, exposes all manner of beauty.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about KINDNESS

 

heart in island sand website box copy

 

 

 

See Your Wealth [on Merely A Thought Monday]

your day copy

Not only does 20 take care of DogDog and Babycat while we are away, he always has a hot meal waiting for us when we arrive home. He is our anchor, our safety net. Our brother.

Once, a week before our wedding when we were harried and exhausted, we sent Linda a text. “Can we come to your house for dinner?” She fed us a feast. She and Jim made us laugh. We drank wine. They feast us to this day.

John and Michele watch out for us. They are the source of a thousand kindnesses. They tell stories that make us cry with laughter. They live with intention and inspire us.

When I was sick Russ showed up at our door with food. MaryKay plied us with brownies.

I call Horatio, Skip, or Arnie to stir my thinking, to seek perspective, or just because. They are always available. Always.

Dan helps us fix things, protect things, make things better. He is always on the lookout for ways to make our lives easier.

The Up-North-Gang comes to find us when we’ve been out in the canoe too long. “It’s time for snacks!” Jay says. We laugh with them and go on adventures. We drink special recipe Long Island Iced Teas and then have to sit down.

We call Jen and Brad for advice. We call them when we want to bounce ideas off sensible minds. We call them when we want to hear loving voices. They rejuvenate us. They lift our spirits. We look forward to every ounce of time spent with them.

Fact: it is the people in our lives that make our days some kind of awesome. Ask me if I am rich and I will smile and say, “Yes. Oh, yes. More than you can possibly know.”

 

read Kerri’s blog post about AWESOME

 

wineglassesthreehands61 website box copy

Make A Small Gesture [on Two Artists Tuesday]

small gestures copy

We’ve built our towering life together on the small gesture. Coffee in bed. A note stashed in a suitcase to be found when far away from home. We hold hands everywhere we go. When getting ready for bed, the first one in the bathroom always puts toothpaste on both brushes. Little kindnesses. The smallest of signals and courtesies that say nothing more and nothing less than, “You matter most of all.”

Looking for the grand plan that will change the world or, better, trying to be the grand plan, often blinds us to the real necessity of the moment. We look for the mountain that needs to be moved and miss the hand that needs to be held.

My younger, revolutionary self screams, “WHAT?! WE NEED TO PUSH BACK! WE NEED TO FIGHT THE SYSTEM!! WE NEED TO CHANGE THE WORLD!!! THIS SMALL-MOMENT STUFF IS THE CRAP-THINKING OF AN OLD PERSON! WHAT HAPPENED TO YOU?!!!!

I’ve been more changed by a smile from across the room than by all the agitation that I’ve engendered across the span of my life. I have initiated more change by holding my tongue than by wagging it. Listening, I’ve learned, is a most powerful small gesture.

If I am old (I don’t feel old), if I have learned anything, then I have learned that real love is not noisy or flashy or grand. It is quiet. It steps behind you when you are frightened, puts its hand on your back and whispers, “I’ve made you a toothbrush.”

 

read Kerri’s blog post about SMALL GESTURES

 

cropped head kiss website copy

Stand On Any Street Corner [on Merely A Thought Monday]

kindness kerouac copy

For reasons that are beyond my pay-grade to comprehend, human beings are obsessed with seeing conflict and division. The news of the day is generally antagonistic and despair-inducing – and that is not unique to our day. Ancient temples and modern televisions alike are overrun with images of war and hostility.

One of the greatest powers a human being can achieve is the power of focus placement. ‘Seeing’ is, after all, a matter of choice.  It is not passive. In any given moment there are multiple points of focus, there are multiple stories, there are many interpretations to choose from.

Stand on any street corner and watch the world happen. Watch the overwhelming number of acts of kindness and generosity. The small moments of simple kindness and consideration. They are everywhere. People giving way, making way, helping. You will be surprised to find that the kindnesses by far outnumber the rudeness, the antagonism.

Stand on any street corner and watch where your focus goes. In the midst of a tsunami of kindness, if you are human and like all other humans, your focus will be captured by the angry guy honking his horn, the commuter shouting at the bus driver. “Such an angry world,” you think and close your eyes, despairing. Anger is so much louder than kindness.

Tell a story of discord, see a story of discord. Practice a story of discord, live a story of discord. Discord is easily leveraged. Division is easily sold. It is like selling candy to a kid. It is readily chiseled into pillars and hungrily read into teleprompters.  It is so easy to see.

Tell a story of kindness, see a story of kindness. Practice a story of kindness, live a story of kindness. Although it is more readily available it is, somehow, more difficult to see. It is less sell-able and, so, is discarded as trite. It requires choice and discernment rather than default. It requires opening your eyes and your story to what is actual, what lives beyond the thundering chorus of conflict-peddlers.

The angry shooters and tweet-happy presidents live on the far margins yet they garner the majority of the attention. Stand on any street corner and open your eyes. There is a sweeping quiet kindness that permeates the vast majority, that defines the middle ground. You can see it if you so choose.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about KINDNESS

 

 

 

 

 

hands across tree WEBSITE BOX copy

 

 

 

 

Make No Mark [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

seagull prints copy

Many generations ago, just after the road was resurfaced, a hearty seagull stepped into the hot asphalt and, doing its best human imitation, left its footprints for posterity.

Everyone wants to leave their mark. A hand print in a cave, a plaque on a bench, an elementary school that carries their name. I was here. I did something worthy with my time. I mattered. I broke a record, amassed a fortune, discovered a cure, left a print in the Hollywood walk of fame.

Once, I painted a beautiful painting and I only know it was beautiful because a woman came to the gallery opening, caught her breath, and wept in front of it. Once, I fulfilled a promise long after it was capable of being fulfilled. Everything changed.

People draw lines in the sand. They take stands. They say, “This matters,” even if, from every other point of view, the scratch in the earth looks insignificant. To cross the line, to betray the mark, is…(fill in your word). My word is untenable.

I mostly wonder what kindness I might be capable of if I was not so concerned with making marks. I wonder what kindness might be afforded me if I were not pressed to step over my lines. What kindness my be engendered?

Time and again I have admired the words and work of people who managed to leave behind the desire for mark-making. They walked through their days, perhaps helping others and, without really meaning to, with no thought of personal gain or guarding of territory or making statements, like the seagull, they stepped and inadvertently left a few footprints for posterity.

 

feet on deck WI website box copy

 

 

Be A Neighbor [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

snow angels copy

We were in the basement putting away Christmas stuff when John cleared our driveway and sidewalk with his snowblower. We didn’t hear it or I’d have run outside to give him a big bear hug. I discovered his generosity when I pulled on my boots, grabbed my shovel and stepped outside to find a job well done. Coming back in the house Kerri said in jest, “That was quick.” Pretending to be a snow-shoveling-superhero, I said, “Take a look if you doubt my capabilities!”

She immediately doubted my superhero capabilities because she knew the real superhero was John. Like me, she was overwhelmed with his kindness.

If you could order your neighbors on Amazon, you’d be foolish not to pick John and Michele. Seriously, if I could give the world anything it would be the peace of mind that comes  when you have good and caring neighbors. Neighbors who have your back. Neighbors who, without being asked, watch your house when you are away. Neighbors you can call at any moment, at any time of day or night, “help,” and know that they will be happy to be there.  Neighbors who you look forward to hanging out with, who are curious about the world and passionate about what they do.

My parents were good neighbors. They understood and taught me that ‘neighbor’ is not a statement of location. It is active relationship, connective tissue, participation, the most immediate and potent way of making the world a better place. Start where you live.

Later in the afternoon, knowing that John enjoys good beer, we walked to a local micro brewery, debated which beer he’d enjoy the most, bought him a “thank you” crowler and left it on his porch.

Back in our yard, falling backwards into the deep snow, we made snow angels. Laying in our newly minted angels, looking at the clouds, Kerri said, “You know, we’re really lucky.”

True. Very True. We have great neighbors.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about SNOW ANGELS

 

snowheart website box copy

 

Give To Life [on Two Artists Tuesday]

kindness day box copy

Today is voting day in these United States of America. Our election cycles are usually ugly and interminable affairs but this cycle has established a new low bar. These days my country’s narrative is anything – and everything – but kind. Anything goes, it seems, but kindness (or truth, but that’s a theme for another time).

It’s a complex challenge. People wrapped in an ugly narrative see an ugly world (of course). People wrapped in an ugly narrative respond with ugly actions (of course). As the saying goes, ‘If the only tool you have in your bag is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.’ Ugly narratives are a one-tool-bag.

An ugly narrative is never changed through another ugly narrative. Resistance will always create a fight.  Hammer, nail. Hammer, nail. It’s a great strategy for inflating the ugliness. Winning at all cost usually costs the things most valued: ideals and values. Decency. Division as a strategy works in the short term but the long game is, well, ugly.

Reach Through Time no wordsjpg copyIt is not a secret, though rarely put into practice, that bridging a philosophical divide is easy. It’s rarely practiced because it’s counter-intuitive: Reach.  Reaching is a distinctly different action than resisting and it generates a distinctly different response: reconciliation. It does, however, require a set of tools beyond a simple hammer:

  1. Listening.
  2. A dedication to truth, even if it doesn’t support the belief-of-the-moment. Reconciliation is impossible without leading with the truth.
  3. Operating out of a bigger picture – one that transcends self-interest.

Pie-in-the-sky you say? Why is it less possible to choose kindness than it is to choose violence? Why does reaching across the aisle seem more difficult than demonizing those on the other side? Demonizing is easy. Fear is easy. Planting a flag in the sand and casting yourself as victim is so much easier than stepping across the line and standing in the other’s shoes. Or, if standing in their shoes is too difficult, standing side-by-side is an option.

Many years ago, a student, a former gang member said it best: “Any idiot with a gun can take a life. Taking is easy. The real work comes when you choose to give to life rather than take it.”

World Kindness Day is a week away. Choose to give kindness. Give to life. In little ways. In small moments. And, if it feels good, perhaps consider choosing it everyday, rather than once a year. Kindness is a great addition to any tool bag.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about WORLD KINDNESS DAY

 

 

hands across tree WEBSITE BOX copy

 

be kind designs ©️ 2018 kerri sherwood