When my boys were younger, grocery shopping almost always felt like a painful ordeal. Shopping with a four-year-old and a one-year-old in tow was highly stressful and fraught with difficulty. I remember my best shopping days back then, however, were when complete strangers would let me push in on the supermarket line or when they would entertain my boys while I concentrated on paying the bill.
These simple and random acts of kindness had such power to improve the quality of my day. This year has been challenging for many people because of the pandemic but, thankfully, we still hear of people’s kind gestures toward others.
For a Christian, the scriptures tell us that kindness is at the heart of what it means to love one another. According to the gospels, the mark of a Christian is that “everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). So being a Christian means that these “acts of kindness” aren’t random acts at all but are a result of our understanding of Jesus’s love for us and our desire to share that love with others.
Erin Jones, a wife and mother of six children aged between five and 21, speaks of the kindness and generosity of her children’s teachers in supporting the parents while they were homeschooling. She was also on the receiving end of kindness when her husband’s workplace gave them a financial bonus to assist with the cost of their increased internet usage during lockdown.
But what’s most striking about Erin’s family is their desire to help others. “We have an elderly widow who normally sits with us in church and has done so for years,” said Erin. “During the pandemic, my two youngest children, Rachel and Isaac, have been writing letters and sending drawings to her.” One can only imagine the comfort this lady received from these children’s simple gesture.
Praying for those who were affected by COVID-19 was at the heart of Kay Orbell’s response to the pandemic. As the number of global deaths mounted, and as a mother and grandmother herself, Kay couldn’t get past the fact that these were real people with real lives. And so she prayed continuously. She prayed for the nurses, the doctors, the fire brigade – everyone she could think of.
“All those people were mums, dads, uncles, aunties and grandparents,” Kay said. “In my heart, I couldn’t just let the numbers go. The reports of thousands of people dying. I didn’t know anyone who died personally, but it didn’t matter, I just cried out for them.”
In talking about how we might recover kindness as a way of living in our world today, Pope Francis in his recent encyclical Fratelli Tutti (On Fraternity and Social Friendship), speaks of how easy it is to see other people as an annoyance or an obstacle to our own existence. (#222). “This is even more the case in times of crisis, catastrophe and hardship, when we are tempted to think in terms of the old saying, ‘every man for himself’.” Pope Francis goes on to say, “Yet even then, we can choose to cultivate kindness. Those who do so become stars shining in the midst of darkness.”
One of the most striking stories of love and kindness I’ve heard came from a friend whose uncle recently died. Two of her uncles had been living together and supporting each other but following the uncle’s death, my friend’s family rallied around the remaining uncle and took him into their home.
It was a simple enough gesture, but the implications of this move meant there was no longer enough room for the eldest 20-something-year-old grandniece to stay in her home as well, so she moved in with her aunt. This story is a beautiful lived example of kindness cultivated in an entire family. Their thankfulness for their uncle’s presence in their lives and their capacity to put their own desires and comfortable existence on hold to care for him struck me deeply.
Felicity Chan was deeply touched by the story of a mum at her children’s school whose family’s village in Fiji was struck by Cyclone Harold in April 2020. The category five cyclone decimated the village, levelling many houses and community buildings. Since then the mum has been collecting food and clothing to send back to Fiji to help her family and other local villagers. On top of the cyclone recovery, the village then felt the impacts of COVID-19 and this further devastated Fiji’s local economy.
Felicity was so moved by this woman’s story that she reached out to help the small community herself. “One of the many ways this mum has helped her village is by sending them parcels of clothing and bedding,” Felicity said. “I was able to contribute too by clearing unwanted sheets and towels from my linen cupboard and donating unused school equipment, stationery and early learning materials for the children.”
Pope Francis reflects on our unwillingness to stop and be kind to others and forget to do the simple things such as say, ‘excuse me’, ‘pardon me’ and ‘thank you’. “Yet every now and then,” he goes on to say, “miraculously, a kind person appears and is willing to set everything else aside in order to show interest, to give the gift of a smile, to speak a word of encouragement, to listen amid general indifference. If we make a daily effort to do exactly this, we can create a healthy social atmosphere in which misunderstandings can be overcome and conflict forestalled. Kindness ought to be cultivated.” (#224)
I’ve lost count of the kindnesses I’ve been at the receiving end of this year. The parishioner who dropped around a large box of children’s books for my boys to use in the early weeks of homeschooling because she knew I was worried about teaching my kindergarten child how to read. The friend who gave our boys clothing and toys that still had plenty of wear and use left. And the weekly Saturday ‘check-in’ phone calls from another friend because we were both home and had more time to touch base with each other.
It is so easy to simply list examples of kindness. Seen like this, acts of kindness can become another checklist of things to do. But seen as the mark of a Christian, as the way followers of Jesus bring love, life and hope to a hurting world, and kindness can become the very thing that heals people, that transforms lives and relationships, and that helps others to see that it’s worth putting our hope in Jesus, especially at this time.
As Pope Francis encourages us, we pray we may become for one another, “stars shining in the midst of darkness”.
Reproduced with permission from the Summer 2021 edition of The Majellan Family Magazine, the publication of The Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer (Redemptorists) of Oceania.