How many times have you thought it, but not said it?
"That girl over there has a nice smile."
"That little kid is being so nice to the other kids on the playground."
"What a breautiful pregnant belly."
"That man wrote something that really changed my perspective."
I do it all the time. Think nice thoughts, but never have the guts to say them aloud. Sometimes it's because I don't want to embarass the other person, but usually it's because I don't want to embarass myself. I mean, what if I compliment her smile and it's dentures? Tell his parents he's behaving so sweetly just as he throws sand in my daughter's eyes? Compliment the pregnant belly and get a litany of complaints from her about carrying it around all day? Tell him he changed my life and get a cold shoulder?
So I bite my tongue, more often than not. And I suspect we all do. We think nice, lovely, kind, heart-bursting thoughts about others and we never share them with the person who inspired us.
One time, probably 10 years ago, my husband and I (then boyfriend, but who's counting?) had just parked our car off Mill Ave. in Tempe and were walking to a restaurant. I had my hair down, which wasn't typical for me. I've always favored long hair but hate it in my face so 98% of the time it's pulled back. We turned a corner, and a beautiful girl with a hippie vibe slowed, then reached her hand out to me. "You have beautiful hair!" she said, smiling warmly. And I swear to you, I not only smiled the rest of that day and through the weekend, I also wore my hair down almost all the remainder of the week.
And now, 10 or so years later, I vividly remember her unprovoked and spontaneous moment of kindness.
It matters. Kindness matters. A wise man I know very well once gave my husband and I (then fiance, but agains who's counting?) an incredibly important piece of marital advice: "Always try to be kind to each other." I took it to heart, but wasn't sure my husband would remember it 7+ years later. But then, the other day, I overheard him talking about my dad to someone, and repeating the advice my dad had given us that day.
And we're not perfect, you know. We go many days sometimes so wrapped in kids and work and bills and house and and and and that sometimes he goes up to the bathroom and never returns, having decided to crash out for the night and forgetting to come down to kiss me goodnight. Sometimes I mutter bad names to him under my breath when the kids aren't listening and there have been times we've gone to bed angry. Kindness doesn't always prevail in every little thing we do in life. We don't always win that battle. Sometimes, we forget. And everyone knows we often save our most harsh words for those we love the most fiercly. It's true, too, that sometimes I say the words, "Please stop crying and use your words to tell me what you need." to my kids, and in my head it sounds more like, "For fuck's sake, quit being a jerk and just spit it out!". But at the end of the day, we try to remember that kindness should prevail and we hope to raise our kids so they remember to, "Always try to be kind to each other."
The other day, we were out somewhere in public and the kids were playing pretty peacefully together. Suddenly, we were joined by another mom and her two boys. The younger was probably Luca's age and the older was probably 5 or 6. I confess I cringed a little, too, because mom was on her cell phone and released her two wild young boys to play without really watching them. History tells me that's the perfect storm for one of my kids coming to me crying, sand in hair and eyes or a slide being blocked by 2 bigger boys who won't let them come down.
Instead, I was pleasantly surprised. The boys were rowdy and wild. They ran by Rohan at full speed, and he was clipped on the shoulder and fell hard on his bum. I waited for a beat, not sure if Mo would get up and keep playing or start to cry, and felt such happiness in my heart when both boys stopped running and came over by him. The older boy helped him stand, and both leaned over him and spoke in quiet voices. Luca ran over to check on the situation, and though I couldn't hear the conversation, I saw Mo nod and the smaller boy pat his back before both boys were off and running again. Luca came over to me, and when I asked what had happened she assured me the boys apologized and made sure Rohan was ok before moving on. The rest of the time there was pretty tame, but I did notice the boys letting Rohan and Luca by them on the playground equipment with no drama and even once helping Rohan when he couldn't figure out how to turn to climb down the stairs. When we got up to leave, I turned back and said to my family, "Just a second." I walked over by the mom (now off the phone but talking to a friend next to her) and told her, "I just wanted to let you know that your boys were very kind to my kids today, and I really appreciated it." She looked a little puzzled, so I explained, "Sometimes when kids who are a little bigger than them come play we have to referee because the bigger kids don't always notice the littler ones. But your boys were very nice to my kids and I think you should be really proud."
I'm not sure what I said made much of a difference to her (she still looked a bit puzzled by me when I turned to leave) but I felt good about it. And a little part of me hoped she told those boys what I'd said so they would know their kindness was seen and appreciated.
My point comes down to this: it's been a rough few months around here. I remember looking forward to 2011 but feeling some anxiety about it, and now I know my instinct was correct. 2011 has been a challenging year, and sometimes those challenges take me away from the mental space I try to maintain. They shift my focus to bad things rather than positivity.
So I'm dedicating October to Saying Nice Things. This month, I am going to make a real effort to say that nice thing that just popped into my head without worrying that it sounds stupid, might embarass me, might embarass the person it's directed to, etc. And just deciding to do this has already had one positive effect on my life: it's made me keenly aware of the fabulous things I notice about others already. Because kindness matters.