the power of simple gestures

A week or so ago I returned to my car in the parking garage downtown to find a little yellow flower tucked in behind the windshield wipers. Startled, I glanced up the rows on each side to see if other cars had been recipients. None had, so my first assumption was that someone I knew had made the gift. But then I realized that currently almost no one would recognize my newishly-purchased car, either by exact model or certainly by license plate number, and the one person who might – namely my landlord, who lives upstairs – is not someone I can imagine doing a thing like that.

So I’m left with a mystery. My car was parked that day at the end of a row, adjacent to the path along which people walk to get from one of the streets bordering the garage to the other. It makes sense then that someone picked the flower somewhere, maybe from just outside the entrance where there’s a little garden, then had the spontaneous idea to offer it to the first car they saw – which would’ve been mine.

In any case, I was truly touched by the gesture, and all the more because it came from someone who didn’t know who I was. So much of the time we find ourselves interpreting events as gratuitous negative judgments upon us – well, or at least I do… Here suddenly, out of the blue, was a gift from the universe – precisely because neither giver nor receiver knew the other. There was something so free, irreducible, and pure about it.

When I returned home I put the flower in a glass of water and set it on my desk, where it thrived for nearly a week. And every time it caught my eye it made me smile.

These little actions of the heart really matter in the world and we should all do them more often! I bow to the person who performed this one, whoever and wherever you are…
big-yellow-flower-1u-1(image courtesy of http://www.hiren.info)

George Saunders on kindness

As spotted on The Dish today, George Saunders delivered the commencement address at Syracuse University on May 11 of this year (the entirety can be read here). It’s an ode to kindness, and begins with a recitation of various unpleasant experiences he has had and doesn’t particularly regret, followed by the one thing he does:

So here’s something I know to be true, although it’s a little corny, and I don’t quite know what to do with it:

What I regret most in my life are failures of kindness.

Those moments when another human being was there, in front of me, suffering, and I responded… sensibly. Reservedly. Mildly.

Here is his conclusion, which is about as good a commencement speech ending as I expect I will ever see:

So, quick, end-of-speech advice: Since, according to me, your life is going to be a gradual process of becoming kinder and more loving: Hurry up. Speed it along. Start right now. There’s a confusion in each of us, a sickness, really: selfishness. But there’s also a cure. So be a good and proactive and even somewhat desperate patient on your own behalf – seek out the most efficacious anti-selfishness medicines, energetically, for the rest of your life.

Do all the other things, the ambitious things – travel, get rich, get famous, innovate, lead, fall in love, make and lose fortunes, swim naked in wild jungle rivers (after first having it tested for monkey poop) – but as you do, to the extent that you can, err in the direction of kindness. Do those things that incline you toward the big questions, and avoid the things that would reduce you and make you trivial. That luminous part of you that exists beyond personality – your soul, if you will – is as bright and shining as any that has ever been. Bright as Shakespeare’s, bright as Gandhi’s, bright as Mother Theresa’s. Clear away everything that keeps you separate from this secret luminous place. Believe it exists, come to know it better, nurture it, share its fruits tirelessly.

And someday, in 80 years, when you’re 100, and I’m 134, and we’re both so kind and loving we’re nearly unbearable, drop me a line, let me know how your life has been. I hope you will say: It has been so wonderful.

Congratulations, Class of 2013.

I wish you great happiness, all the luck in the world, and a beautiful summer.