My alter ego, as captured by Iris Taboh
I’m not perfect, never will be, but the first day of each new year arrives at my door with a fresh coat of potential–potential to be a better man. (Be assured, it’s more of a journey than a destination.) This morning I’m on my front porch, warmed by a Hudson Bay, cup of coffee and a stack of good intentions, though freezing temperatures are testing all. Each steamy breath evaporates into stillness and the stars shine through a fretwork of branches. All is new, all is right with the world. (Of course, I’ve only been up for fifteen minutes.)
Back inside warming my dogs (both pooches and feet) before an overworked space heater, I think about 2010. A dizzying year with a heavy case load of life lessons, I ask myself, “What did I really learn?” The list is long and it changes daily, but if I had to distill it down to one thing, I’d have to say I learned to err on the side of kindness.
So many things happened this year that stopped me in my tracks. Some were tragic, some life-altering, some simple truths. When I thought I knew it all, I knew nothing. When I judged, I did it from one side. When I talked before I listened, I served little good. When I spoke ill of others, I diminished myself. When humanity needed an advocate, I was off watching Oprah.
If I may share a simple story:
My tray was in its upright position, my seat belt fastened. The flight was packed, but the two seats next to me were empty. (Happy dance.) Right before the flight attendant closed the door, a young woman and toddler bounded on the plane with enough supplies for a week on Mount Everest. The flight attendant stated the obvious, “You need to hurry and take your seats.” Passenger irritation was palpable. And while I knew I would leave the flight wrinkled, covered in crumbs and gummy fingerprints, I took sympathy on the Mom and got up to help her stowaway her base camp. (Don’t get me wrong, I was still pouting about the loss of my arm rest and personal space.)
I said, “Tough crowd, eh?” and she smiled and said, “You don’t know the half of it.” Well, it was a five-hour flight, so she had plenty of time to tell me the half of it, and it was quite a story. A military wife with a husband on his second remote tour, she had had a tough couple years.
I first saw her as an unfortunate seat taker, and then three time zones later I knew her as an amazingly resilient Mother and wife who had been through a lot. She had a story, one that made me feel like a lightweight. Who she was, was initially not who I saw.
There are other stories, some with a bigger punch, a few that are sad, but they all share the same message. If a neighbor needs a hand, lend it. If a stranger lacks a smile, share one. If someone turns a cruel word, counter it with a kind one. If you know not the situation, honor it with silence.
I know I don’t have all the answers, but I hope I have a few, and I feel if I start out (and hopefully continue) by erring on the side of kindness, 2011 will be a very good year.