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"Kindness", anyone?

When I was a teen-ager, I used to discuss the big issues of life with my mother. Doing most of the talking, I would expose her to all my grand ideas about what it means to be part of the human race and what we are supposed to do and she would listen patiently for a while and then say that, for her, what mattered most was to be kind, that the quality she held in the highest esteem was kindness. The French word is "gentillesse" which sounds even simpler and more ordinary than "kindness" does in English. It is often used to exhort children to a better behavior "Sois gentil!". It implies meekness and gentleness. Whenever my mother would summarize her own philosophy into this one virtue, it would annoy me and frustrate me because I wanted to say that it was not enough. In those youthful days of mine, what I held in highest esteem was to be a brilliant intellectual or to be an amazing artist. Those were my two favorite ideals: to be very smart, highly educated or to produce work of art which would stun the world… Ah! those were my dreams. What can I say, I was a teenager and it was the end of the sixties.

If what my mother recommended was not enough, nevertheless I could not brush it off because I could see truth in what she said and I realized it would have been stupid to reject kindness and goodness; even in my immature mind and not-fully-formed personality I could see that. At this point in our conversation, I would usually not know what to add and the discussion would stop.

Here I am now, 40 years later, a parent myself, a Northern California resident, thinking (and writing) in another language than my native one and having experienced a deep return to the faith within the last 15 to 20 years. Because this return happened so late, I am driven to understand it well and to be able to articulate it clearly. So I read and I study, I take Bible Study classes, I join prayer groups and I even started my own French-American Catholic site a few years ago. To me, this return to the faith is an exhilarating journey, it is truly the Good News, and having lived so many years outside the reality of faith, I appreciate even more what this Good News means and how it transforms our lives. I now experience first-hand how a faith-filled worldview is the most coherent and abundant world-view of alls.

I just came back to the Alps to spend the winter with my parents, to help them and keep them company during the cold season. Being back in my childhood home, I was reflecting on my life and thinking about what the Gospels mean to me, to the human race, about this huge event which is still unfolding in every breath we take and how the two commandments of loving God and loving our neighbor are truly the heart of it all. And it occurred to me after all these years that my mother was right! Doing good, being kind is definitively what it is about.

Lucky for me, a little bit of wisdom came along the way with each passing year and I can see now the profound paradox in this simple statement which I was so tempted to overlook years ago. It is both very simple and a huge challenge because it is an on-going process, it is not resting on one event, it is not enough to be kind on the first of January and then forget about it… Oh! No, just like dieting and exercising, it is made of a thousand efforts, it needs to be repeated again and again and there lies the challenge. It needs to be practiced to the point where it becomes our way of life. According to Ephesians §4, to become the "new man" we are supposed to speak the truth, stop sinning, work an honest job and share what we have, forget anger and meanness but encourage each other and practice forgiveness… Yes indeed, kindness trumps many things.

There is a certain irony in finally appreciating what your parents have tried to teach you! In my own ways, I recognize that my love for nature photography is my own contribution to focus on the "goodness" and beauty of the world. Nowadays, watching my mother, quiet and resting in her bed, next to me, weakened by old age and memory loss, I am filled with gratitude and I can only think of these words "Merci, ma très chère gentille Maman!"...

Copyright ©2011-2022 Michèle Szekely

    List of articles in TRIBUTE TO MOTHER :
  1. Introduction, how and why   (Autumn 2011)

  2. Kindness, anyone?  (Autumn 2011)

  3. A French lullaby « Aux marches du palais»  (Summer 2013

  4. Musings on life and the weather  (Autumn 2013)

  5. Dos and Donts when dealing with dementia  (from 2010 to 2015)

  6. One mini-miracle and a long day  (Spring 2014)

  7. Prayers to Archangels for a departed loved one  (2014-2021)

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