Experiments in kindness

elfgiftI came across a video featuring a man who had taped money to his jacket, and he walked a busy street holding a sign that said “Take what you need.”

Some people did.

I was most impressed with a man I assume to be homeless who helped himself to a modest amount of money. The benefactor encouraged him to take something more in order to buy food tomorrow. The man declined the offer.

I thought the approach featured in the video was rather garish. It was somewhat confrontational and condescending. The positive effect of watching the video was to remind me how rarely we experiment with kindness and ways of expressing it. This is significant since expressions of kindness are the central issue in this troubled world.

I have a friend who lives at the fringes. She is kind to me, and she feels a significant sense of abandonment because of her lean circumstances. Last time I saw her was at lunch with other friends where I paid the tab for five of us in celebration of a birthday of one of our companions. My friend shared with the group that men who barely know her ask her for sexual favors. I have photographed her taking a bubble bath on more than one occasion. We have a completely trusting relationship. The gap between kindness and greed is narrow.

I bought lunch for another troubled friend yesterday. She is facing great challenges, and at one point in our sharing she wept. My real service to her was to affirm my love for her. She considers herself a burden to her friends, and she tends to withdraw. I told her she is a burden, but one that I welcome and cherish. Do not add guilt to your hurt, I said.

We do not know how to be kind to homeless people. Yesterday I saw a woman on a median strip holding the usual cardboard sign. I was not able to stop, but I returned to her station soon after. She had crossed the street to be with a man that she apparently knew. I gave each of them five dollars. The gesture was meaningless apart from sending some small message that they matter.

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, a time to celebrate abundance and generosity. I often photograph people who cannot afford to pay for that service. They are not expressing vanity, they are celebrating being alive and present. I celebrate with them.

In my view there is nothing more essential to our success as human beings than delving into the variety and the wonders of kindness. On this festive day I encourage all my friends to try new things. It might be new to you to respond to one of my posts. Namaste.

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