Thursday, August 25, 2005

Pay it forward

The vision of Ordinary is my sanity in an increasingly violent world. Sometimes, though, it is hard to keep the vision clear and near.

Not long ago, an old family friend was killed by her husband. There had been no history of abuse in the family according to news reports. The family tells us that the 72-year old retired professor who killed his soul-mate and wife of many years, herself a retiring professor, suffered from dementia.

It is terrifying to imagine that a disease of the brain could render me so senseless that I might bludgeon my dearest loved to death. How is this possible?

We are a culture that celebrates violence. Murder is the theme of at least one television show on the major networks (never mind cable), almost every hour. The more graphic and "real" the bloodletting, the better.

Ignore fiction, stick to real life, and all I have to do is watch the news or tune in online for a smorgasbord of war, drive-by shootings, and yes, extraordinary examples of family violence, over and over and over again.

These past weeks, I feel increasingly surrounded by violence. Bombings in Iraq, Israel, Palestine, Egypt, London. Gang-banger shootings on trains in my own city.

People are angry. People are greedy. People want to get even. People need control.

For some, so the television news magazines indicate in interviews with killers, violence is what they do, like picking their teeth or eating Cheetos.

Closer to home, though not so graphic--and therefore, not so entertaining--is emotional violence. A man I know, a good man trying to do the right thing for his company, recently demoted an employee because, he said, he felt his division had become "stagnant" and needed "shaking up."

The employee, loyal and dedicated, built his department from the ground up and must now train his successor. Had my friend attacked his employee physically, I doubt he could have done more damage. Will it help the bottom line? Will they grow bigger faster?

Look closer. Examine my own life. My bookshelves contain numerous who-done-its. I have read most of them, some more than once. A quick, easy read, I call it, when I want to escape. Imagine! I, who work for peace, escape to violence--to human hatred, betrayal, and loss--as entertainment.

Look closer still.

More and more, I am aware of the ways I participate in or choose violence on a daily basis.

Frequently, I jockey for position in the commuter train queue, making myself big to keep another from edging me from the front and center spot. If I am lucky today, that spot will get me on the train first so I can snare a rare open seat.

You think this a small thing? It is pure aggression and greed. When I become aware of my behavior in these moments, frequently my heart is racing, sometimes pumping so hard that my head hurts with each beat. Often, my fists are clenched, my jaw tight.

Too often, I sacrifice inner peace to create a personal advantage for a seat.

Friends and family argue that conflict is human nature, that it's in our genes, a hold-back to survival of the fittest, or simply a part of us because we are animals too, animals with teeth, brains to make weapons, instinct to guard our territory.

Perhaps that is true.

Perhaps that is a good excuse for choosing not to examine the way we do violence to ourselves and to others in our daily lives. After all, we have something other animals are believed not to have: free will and choice.

I'll tell you this. There have been plenty of times that I, bone-tired, got lucky and grabbed a seat on the train. Then someone shuffled on the train whose weariness was so deep, so profound, that I was up and offering my place almost without thought.

Not everytime, but often enough, they have responded with a gratitude that strengthened me, and I stood the twenty-to-thirty minute ride home energized, with a smile on my face.

Other times, I have been the one holding the bar with a fatigue so great it was all I could do not to swoon, and some individual has risen and said, "Please, take my seat. I'm getting off soon."

I wonder if they know what comfort their kindness brought, lasting long after the ride.

Kindness stays.

What was it that fellow said--"Pay it forward."

Kindness pays it forward.

You never know how far reaching a simple act of kindness in a rather mundane moment might be.


  1. Yeah...and wouldn't it be great if it were kindness that were Ordinary?

    There is still enough of it out there to keep me going. I am amazed at the polarity. I commented recently to a friend that it seems that the good are getting "gooder" and the bad are getting "badder". The line between the two is becoming more and more clear.

    I hope that I contribute more to the good scale than the bad. I have my moments of raging at people in my way when I am trying to get somewhere. I have my moments of deep bone aching compassion. Over all...I believe I offer more good. I guess the important thing is to just keep on doing it.

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  4. I like your spirit that comes through your posts. Please keep posting.


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