[CELEBRATE This Week: 241]
Brenda Power has been giving the gift of writing retreats to Choice Literacy/Lead Literacy writers for a long time. The first year, we gathered in the foothills of Ohio and we each selected a polished rock out of box. When you flipped the rock over, there was a word to live with for the retreat. We were to keep the rock with us and consider what the word meant for our lives.
All but one of the rocks were normal rock colors — grey, dust, brown — but one was yellow. I hoped it was still in the box when it got to me. I didn’t hesitate to pluck the yellow stone out of the box. We held it, without looking at the word, until everyone had a rock.
I was excited to turn the rock over and see what word waited for me. I couldn’t wait to find out what new understandings the next few days would usher into my life. I was becoming impatient with the amount of time it took people to select their rocks, and I remember thinking how funny it was to be excited about a word. It was more than a word; it was going to be a gift. The writer in me was able to work this simple moment into a grand event. What big insight, learning and life altering realizations were about to change me?
Together, we flipped our rocks to reveal the destiny of the next few days. I read my word and felt irritated.
Who needed to learn about kindness? It was the same feeling as pouring the last bowl of Lucky Charms from the box, only to find there are no marshmallows. I felt cheated, but quickly shifted my attitude. At least I held the yellow rock.
Being a rule follower, I was diligent to carry the rock with me. It traveled in my pocket and back pack. It sat beside me on the porch swing and on the nightstand beside the bed. I thought about kindness, but mostly about how silly it was to think I had more to learn about kindness. That lesson was mastered.
Thinking back to that summer, there was one word that characterized my life more than any other.
I was a mother to three young children, a full time educator, a regular blogger who was doing the consistent work of connecting to readers, reading copious books, finishing the writing on my second book, playing around with writing a young adult novel and keeping my house clean. I was making friendships and rebuilding myself as a runner as priorities.
I was efficient to manage life, because the reality was I kept writing and reading and running and cleaning in order to feel some sense of control in life. If I slowed down, everything would topple.
It also meant that kindness mattered in my life. Our new daughters were not kind. It wasn’t because they were mean spirited, it is simply that humans must learn to care for one another. They came from dark places where they learned to survive rather than care. If you have a well-nourished and safe history, then when you live with unkind people day in and day out, you learn to regulate your own kindness. Lashing out isn’t going to make you feel better and it isn’t going to help the situation.
I was efficient with my kindness.
Of course, all these realizations came years later. At the time I was annoyed at the suggestion of needing more kindness in my life. Who would even add that word to the collection as a potential word for someone to select? What kind of people were at the retreat if someone needed more kindness?
It happened in small ways. I finished eating before everyone else. I packed all of my supplies before everyone else. I walked ahead of everyone else. I arrived first and left before everyone else. I wrote article after article, producing them like an efficient machine.
Suddenly I realized in my efficiency I became a person who rushed. I realized I was a cordial person, but there wasn’t much space for kindness.
I began to slow down.
I remember, telling myself to chew. I held a delightful arugula, turkey and cranberry wrap in my hands, and I said to myself, “Ruth, chew. Taste. Swallow. Pause. Smell.”
I remember telling myself to walk. “Ruth, slow. Breathe. Look. Stop. Feel the sunshine. Notice the lady bug. Hear the rustle of the leaves.”
As I slowed down, I moved from being cordial to being kind. One can be efficient and pleasant. Kindness, though, takes time. Kindness is warm and generous and a selfless act of loving others more than loving efficiency.
By the end of the retreat, I could begin to answer my nagging question. Who needs kindness?
The truth is, I can always learn how to usher more kindness into my life. I celebrate the way this yearly writing retreat shapes me in important ways. In the midst of a contorted journey, each June I am reacquainted with the kind of human I want to be. I am so grateful for the chance to reset and remember the things that matter most.
Kindness is what matters.
Listening to stories and loving people.
This is what matters most to me.