I wake, on a fairly regular basis, to a note being affixed (in some way) to my door. It is almost always in a child’s uneven block lettering adorned with hearts or butterflies and at least one smiley face. It usually says “I love you” or “Love, Rachel” and can be a thank you note for some tiny kindness I extended to her and her sisters – but she is always the one who writes the note, the youngest one. Once she left me a perfectly flat piece of sandstone for ‘the garden’ with a note now on my refrigerator door.
And as I discover each of these tiny endearments my heart swells, my eyes fill, my throat clenches and a small piece of my soul slips out of the physical shell I find my life housed within and joins such magical things as rainbows, meteor showers and baby bunnies.
She is an apt protégé in the garden, curious and absorbing the name of each plant, beginning to understand that each has a short cycle in which it will bloom and (I flatter myself to think) perhaps her recent enthusiasm at discovering the scent and prettiness of Lily of the Valley will ensure that forty years from now she will be passing on her knowledge as a plants-woman to different 7 year old. People like Rachel make me wonder about the scope of humankind’s capacity for simple kindness – to treat others as we all long to be treated, to leave the world a tiny bit better than ‘it is’. People like Rachel give me hope.
And then there are people like Sean Penn who make my small efforts of tending a tiny spot of the Earth and mentoring Rachel feel inadequate in the extreme. I stand in awe and near reverence of his undaunted efforts three years after the earthquake which devastated Haitians tiny half of the island they share with the Dominican Republic. The sheer magnitude of providing sanitation and clean drinking water and housing for Haiti’s displaced, Penn continues living cheek by jowl with those he aims to serve. I mention this in terms of kindness because to live surrounded by death and suffering must stretch any humans’ capacity to renew and give again on another day, each day until ‘it’s right’. My admiration for him as a human outstrips his remarkable gifts as an actor.
With a $4000 sweater on its cover, in contrast with the average Haitian who lives on $730 per year, I wonder if the WSJ Magazine would have recently ‘covered’ Penn’s efforts were it not for the stunning photograph by Jim Goldberg (whose works can be found in the permanent collections of such galleries as The Whitney, The MFA, The Corcoran and The Library of Congress) commissioned by Giorgio Armani to honor the Acqua for Life project. Oh, yes, and mentioning the $500,000 donation Armani is making to Penn’s J/P Haitian Relief Organization; Penn’s commitment to basic human kindness far outstrips the ease in which a check can be written.
But each does what they can. Right? RIGHT?
I believe kindness is an extension of gratitude, for the ability to see and feel what others patently miss whilst they pursue instead of living. With every act of kindness more loving energy pours forth into the world at large, as Thomas Paine so eloquently wrote:
What kindness will you extend today that in its ‘dearness’ the amplification will be felt beyond your own borders?