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Oh For Goodness’ Sake

I think of my grandmother when people tell me I’m a good listener.  Thank you grandma.  I think of her when people tell me any good thing about myself.  If it is that I acted courageously, or that I comforted someone in distress, I think of her. I think of how she, without any help from God or religion, instilled in me appreciation for plain simple goodness, for goodness’ sake, and no other reason.  She had good reason to be bitter, angry, disappointed, lonely, and yet she wasn’t. She wasn’t a stupid woman, dully accepting life’s lot because she didn’t know any better.  She was sharp and clear about how she wanted to be.  She was uncomplaining by choice, saying “what good would it do to complain” when asked about her troubles.

Her own mother, I heard not from her, but from an aunt, was regularly inebriated and possibly mentally unstable and would make a habit of showing up at school about midday and with a ruckus insist that Florence, my grandmother, come home at once to take care of things.  It must have been embarrassing to be called out by a drunk parent, one who when well-oiled wore a cabbage leaf on her head in public.  Yet, if you asked my grandmother to talk about her mother and she would recount details, names, dates, facts, events, but offer no analysis, no condemnation.

Perhaps that is why she was so safe to talk to and to bear our souls to.  No condemnation.

My grandmother chose goodness for no reason she would explain. She wanted no prize and no recognition for choosing goodness.  She expected no future and eternal home in a gold-paved city for doing so.  It was how she made things right in the world, by refraining from adding anything more to it that was not good.  She would say, “Oh, for goodness’ sake,” at times when most people might say something like God dammit!  I don’t recall her every cussing, other than once during a moment of extreme pain when arthritis in her knees, hands and feet made it impossible to stand. In a moment of intense frustration, tears held back by force of will, she clenched her lips and muttered ‘dammit.’  I’d not heard her say anything like it before.  I looked up carefully from what I was doing to see out the corner of my eyes if lightening would indeed descend from whatever merciless God had set her up with such pain and suffering.  She had endured so much, and through it all had been so very, very good.  If my grandmother couldn’t make the grade to appease the spiteful gods, I thought, there was (as my mother would say) not a snowball’s hope in hell for me.

When I caught my grandmother’s eye and she mine, she brushed my gaze aside with her gnarly fingers and looked away but not in time to hide the tears.  I knew better than to embarrass her by acknowledging them or looking at her while she wiped dry her cheek.  I had learned from her that the very best thing to do in a moment like this was to offer to make tea.

“How about a lovely cup of tea?” 

She had made tea for me and so many others in the moments of our breakdowns, unwanted pregnancies, weaknesses, tragedies, coming-outs and temper tantrums.  She loved a good, strong cup of tea and trusted it to do what nothing else can do: to reestablish the goodness of things ‘once and for all’ as she would say firmly when passing sentence on trouble and banishing a worry that one of us had explained to her in sobbing detail.

I learned later that my grandmother had a broader range of more risqué expletives which she reserved for moments when her grandchildren weren’t around.  When she watched over us in the afternoons, however, her language was care-filled, clean and kind.  We’d test her. We’d try to distract while she read one of the mysteries or romance novels that she got lost in.  I knew we were close to her limit when she would mutter “Why you little...” and then stifle whatever word was intended to complete the phrase.  She would put on an act of being angry that she had almost said the swallowed word, and would fuss and sputter and purse her lips and wrinkle them back into a smile.

My grandmother was good.  She loved us unwaveringly, even when we were not good, like she loved her husband even when he didn’t love her.  Even when he hated being trapped in the large catholic family.  Even when he was violent, and blatantly unfaithful.  Even through his extended periods of blind-drunkenness and demeaning words said to her in public.  She neither said a spiteful word about him nor did she encourage anyone around her to do so.  She sat by his side through his slow decline from cirrhosis of the liver, tending to him with grace much in the same way she tended to all who came to her in moments of distress; without a word of criticism, and with very little advice, but with careful attention and comfort and with tea.  Her love came through her listening, her tea and her natural born goodness.  For this, friends and family came to her to sit, like in the presence of a wise teacher, and pour out the contents of our troubled hearts.

Other than a supply of tea, novels, her rocking chair and her grandchildren, she didn’t need anything.  She expressed no longing to accomplish great things or to see interesting places.  She was quiet and took up little space in the world.  She was enthusiastically grateful for the smallest of kindnesses extended her way.  If you gave her something she didn’t want or like, you would never know because the fact that you gave her something would be delightful to her.

She never talked of God.  She didn’t go to church.  She was married in church, and would return only out of respect for a deceased relative, a wedding or baptism.  She had no comment about church or God, just as she had no comment about other people, her husband or her pain.  Goodness, to her was something clear cut, a decision.  She believed in goodness and in the rightness of things working out in the end which was incredible to me, considering the rotten eggs life had thrown her way.

My grandmother was my hero. 

She was always available to listen. I didn’t need to ask her if I could talk. Even if she was engrossed in a paperback novel, I could just start speaking.  She would fold the book down into her lap on the apron that seemed a permanent part of her daily ensemble.  She would listen attentively and would never, not ever, criticize me.  She was incapable of accepting that there could possibly be anything wrong with me, and God knows I tried to persuade her.  I told her about every transgression and crime of indulgence I was guilty of or planned.  She would listen to me intently, but wouldn’t agree with my conclusions.  When I came apart one day at fifteen years of age in a howling mess at her tea table, confessing that I had become sexually active at a too early age, that I had been slinking around pretending to be older than my age, drinking and smoking and broken-heartedly in love with a man twice my age, she couldn’t be moved into shock or condemnation.  She set out at once to make the tea I didn’t want, saying, “This isn’t something we should tell your mother just yet” as she hobbled with painful steps to the kitchen and back with the assistance of counter-tops, chair backs and other furniture to ease her way.

She said firmly, as she’d always say “It’ll all work out in the end.” In severe cases she’d follow up with annoying confidence “There, there.”  And if met with doubt, she’d say “Mark my words, it will all work out in the end,” bringing the conversation to a full stop.  It was both maddeningly simplistic and heart-warmingly satisfying to witness her conviction which felt like medicine to whatever wound was brought to her.
She was right about so many things.  About the simple power of choosing kindness.  About the inclination of things to work themselves out.  About the futility of complaining, gossiping or being mean-spirited.  About the pointlessness of contributing anything other than our natural born goodness.  

I didn’t know it then, but I do now:  my grandmother’s choices were shaping my character and albeit that I fail every day to be as resolute as she, I owe my love of kindness to her.
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Walking Among Saints


I grew up Catholic.  Saints are special to Catholics, as they are to people of other faiths.  The reason saints were special to me as a young catholic, is because I could identify with them more easily than with images of Divinity.  Saints went through every test and trail that I went through.  And, there was a saint for every human difficulty, a person who had the same life experience I might ever found myself struggling with.  At least that is how it seemed to me.  The struggle of the saint and their triumph and the way they called their faith into play to rise above the challenge was very encouraging to me.  They seemed to be magnificent role models and loved reading about them.


Tell Them Everything Because They Already Know

The way it worked, according to me, is that if you had an issue, you would connect with the saint who worked that issue out.  In your prayer you would take time to talk to that saint.  You would tell them the whole store, taking your time to go over every detail and leaving nothing out.  You’d tell them what was going on and then, and I sincerely loved this part, the saint would to God on your behalf to intervene.

Look, I may have got the whole thing wrong, and today I certainly don’t believe anyone needs an intermediary between them and Divinity, however, I can tell you that talking to the saints was one of the most comforting practices of my young trouble life.  Because they were passed on, the saints had no bodies, they weren’t intimidating.  The downside was that you didn’t always get clear feed back.  The trade of for clarity was that you could literally tell them everything.

I don’t know where I got the idea from, but I was convinced that because they were part of the invisibleness of being, they already somehow knew everything, so nothing was too shocking to tell a saint.  In fact, that was how you gave it up.  That’s how you released it and gave it over.  Through the telling.  They were going to God to clear it all up, and they, through their ascended beauty of mind and spirit would present me in the most favorable light according to their blessed temperament.

No Intermediaries to Divinity Needed

As an adult I abandoned the whole idea of intermediaries or Divinity needing contrite explanations for past transgressions or worries about the future.  I began to immerse myself in the idea of direct communication with Reality.  I began to feel my relationship with all-that-is in my moments of quiet contemplation when I became intensely aware of the present moment and the aliveness in it.

But I haven’t abandoned the saints, I see them now in current time as role models around me who act out courage, kindness, bravery, thoughtfulness and compassion while going through the trials of navigating this world.  There are no shortages of saints.  They live in everyone one of us, through the disappointments, victories of our lives, we guide each other.  I have started to have the experience of what it means to take refuge in the community because my saints are visible to me and I am able to actually talk to them, celebrate with them, cry with them, be inspired with them, and when the time comes, present my shoulder for them to lean upon.

And not only contemporary saints.  I still celebrate the lives of those who have gone before me.  Who have lived from their faith.  Who have overcome great hardships.  Who have put others before self.  Who have loved deeply and profoundly. 

They continue to inspire me.



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I have reached a point in my life...

I have reached a point in my life where I want to spend time on what brings joy and delight to me and those around me.  I am drawn to those who have tolerance and patience and who exhibit concern for the well-being of others.  I find great value in spending time with people who like me, who love me and who want to share their smile with me.

I am drawn to those who love honesty and freedom.  I notice that I like to collaborate with those who are transparent, genuine and sincere. I love interacting with people whom love to learn and who are sometime uncertain about what they know.  I am comfortable being out of step with popular trends and I shy away from comparison as a form of motivation.

I value loyalty and forgiveness and I cherish heartfelt encouragement both when giving and receiving it. I am fascinated with the diversity of human creativity and I genuinely love those who show gentle, loving kindness to all beings.  And on top of everything I am amazed that people accept and welcome me into their lives.

Inspired by a statement by a public figure I admire. 


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In the Preface to The Power of Kindness by Piero Ferrucci, His Holiness, the Dalai Lama wrote:

Kindness is the starting point, the fount from which flow so many other positive qualities, such as honesty, forgiveness, patience, and generosity.
 
These words made me think about the connection between those positive qualities and kindness.  What would honesty, forgiveness, patience and generosity be without kindness?  Is there even such a thing as unkind patience or unkind generosity, or honesty?

Truth Telling as an Act of Kindness

Telling the truth can be an act of kindness, especially if told with sincerity and a sensitivity.  Not addressing an unpleasant situation can result in hurt feelings as much as addressing the situation can.  There is an element of risk present when, for example, a music teacher decides it is kinder to tell a student who shows no talent to consider other hobbies than to withhold her evaluation.

Sincerity and Sensitivity:  Keys to Kindness
Sincerity and sensitivity are keys to kindness.  Sincerity includes knowing where I’m coming from, in other words being honest about my motives, before I engage in addressing an unpleasant situation.  I sometimes need to spend time searching my heart to discover if I really do have the other person’s best interest in mind.  I may discover subtle mischief at play in the form of a slight desire to put them down, to return a hurt or manipulate an outcome.  I may even discover a slight desire to get even or to get my way.  Sincerity to me means that I own my motive and to take responsibility for the emotional fallout that may result when I address the situation.
Sensitivity means being considerate.  It is a style of engaging that is courteous and caring.  Without sensitivity I might wield the truth like an ax.  I might disguise rudeness by calling it honesty.  I might say things like “I’m just speaking my truth” right before delivering a careless opinion.   Sensitivity to me means being interested in discovering the clearest, kindest way to say what wants to be said with all mischief stripped away.

Things Get Easier
And even when sincerity and sensitivity are practiced there is little guarantee that the information will be received well. Nevertheless, these two qualities help me drop as much pretense as possible when engaging with others and when I am mindful enough to practice them things just get easier.


 

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