Long, long ago before life as we know it, Plato, the Greek philosopher said, "Be kind because everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle."
Recently in my battle, people were very kind to me. I had taken my wife Marie, who is suffering from Alzheimer's, out for a drive from the Fredonia Place Memory Care Unit, but we got a flat tire. I pulled off the road, frantically looked for my AAA card, but could not find it. I panicked. On my cell phone, I called 911. The State Police put me in contact with AAA, but I was put on hold and my phone call to them was cut off. My cell phone charge was running low. Desperately, I called the police again, and they came out to meet me.
They could not have been kinder to this distressed old guy. They called Mancuso's Garage, which locally responds to AAA roadside assistance. They waited patiently until a young man from Mancuso's came and changed the flat. He then called AAA directly, verified my membership, and got me back on the road. He too could not have been kinder. I brought Marie back to Fredonia Place two hours late.
Occasionally, I see bumper stickers proclaiming, "Kindness is my religion." This is true, but only part of the picture. Loving kindness (compassion, helpfulness, sympathy) is a teaching of all religions, but so is a faith community, which supports us, corrects us - and brings us in worship to acknowledge the presence of the Holy.
All of us, however, believers and non-believers, should be kind, but as the English Novelist Mary Webb said, "If you stop to be kind, you must swerve often from your path." Those state troopers had other more pressing things to do than meet me. So did the young man from the garage. They swerved from their path, if only briefly, and were kind to Marie and me.
I once knew of a priest who every Christmas, instead of going to his sister's family for dinner, visited every family in his parish who had lost someone to death that year. He stopped in, did not stay long, but by his presence blessed the family with that empty place at their Christmas table. We don't have to be ordained ministers to do similar things, but we have to swerve from our paths to be kind. Often we have to change our plans to help people perhaps more than we think they deserve.
The theologian, philosopher, physician and medical missionary Albert Schweitzer wrote, "Constant kindness can accomplish much. As the sun makes ice melt, kindness causes misunderstanding, mistrust, and hostility to evaporate." We can do that. We can heal hurts by being kind. We can send notes to the sick and grieving. We can send e-mails offering encouragement and help. Remember Plato: we should be kind because everyone is fighting a hard battle. Everyone. We can help in that battle. We can make their life easier. As the Japanese proverb puts it, "One kind word can warm three winter months."
Our kindness can lighten the load folks are carrying. It makes their life easier. It also makes our life easier. "Your own soul is nourished when you are kind; it is destroyed when you are cruel" (Proverbs 11:17).
The American novelist and newspaper editor E.W. Howe wrote, "If a friend is in trouble, don't annoy him by asking if there is anything you can do. Think up something appropriate and do it." Let your kindness be proactive and practical. Bring over that meal. Stop for a visit. Shovel his driveway. Mow her lawn. Help unravel their insurance claims. Be kind.
Aldous Huxley, the author of "Brave New World" wrote, "It is a little embarrassing that after 45 years of research and study, the best advice I can give to people is to be a little kinder to each other."
Finally, that wise old rabbi, Abraham Joshua Heschel said, "When I was young, I used to admire intelligent people; as I grow older, I admire kind people."
So do I.
Retired from the administration at State University of New York at Fredonia, Daniel O'Rourke lives in Cassadaga. His columns once appeared regularly in the OBSERVER. A grandfather, Dan is a married Catholic priest. His book, "The Living Spirit" is a collection of his previous columns. To read about that book or send comments on this column visit his website www.danielcorourke.com/