The Kindness of Strangers
It's no secret I have ongoing questions about religion, but I still find that when I ask questions, the answers have a way of making themselves known. Sometimes they appear quietly, so I barely notice my thinking has changed, other times the Universe is rougher in delivering the lesson. It makes sense that the only way of learning the value of kindness is to be placed in a situation where you become dependent upon it - and that happened to me during a recent trip to Bali. There was a horrible moment where it felt like someone had flicked the switch of an electrode drilled deep inside one of my lower vertebra. The pain took my breath away and I was frozen to the spot. I worked out how to walk by inching my toes forward from the knee and hunching my shoulders to protect the source of the pain. Every step was agony. The jolt of the initial spasm faded then expanded to include cramping sensations deep inside my hip joints and along my quadriceps. I was not a happy holidaymaker as I waved goodbye to my daughter and friends who were headed off on a day-long bicycle adventure without me. My goal for the day narrowed to: "Alleviate this pain as quickly as possible." Kindness in my pain I was shown so many kindnesses that day starting with the receptionist of the White Bamboo Spa who rang every clinic in town to find me a specialised therapist, as their own Aussie Chiropractor was off on holidays. It continued with a taxi driver who stood in the middle of a busy road stopping traffic so I could cross without being hit by speeding mopeds, and with the staff at the pharmacy who handed me free bottles of water to ease my teary distress. And when I was comforted by another Australian tourist who promised my medicine would be safe for me to take. The day ended with my 11 year old daughter doing all she could to look after me. Each and every act of kindness brought tears to my eyes. I could withstand the pain without crying but I couldn’t withstand the compassion I was shown. That day it occurred to me that “Our true religion is kindness." Our true religion is kindness I had no idea who had made this statement before but I knew it wasn't my own original thought. It hardly mattered where the phrase had originated until I wanted to write this article. The phrase simply resonated through every fibre of my being: "Our true religion is kindness. Our true religion is kindness. Our true religion is kindness…” According to Facebook, Pinterest and the rest of the World Wide Web, one of the Dalai Lama's most famous quotes is this one: "This is my simple religion. There is no need for complicated philosophy. Our own brain, our own heart is our temple; the philosophy is kindness." While James, one of Jesus' first disciples, contributed these words to the Bible: "Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after widows and orphans in their distress" (James 1:27). Jesus himself said the greatest commandment was to love God with your whole heart closely followed by, "Love your neighbour as yourself." Does that make kindness a religion, a philosophy or an action? I don't know and I don't care. What I do know is that when I was visibly suffering it stimulated a compassionate response within others, which in turn made me feel deeply connected to the people who helped me in my distress. I started remembering other times I have experienced the same connection to others as a result of their kindness… Connection through kindness I had great neighbours at the time my marriage ended. They listened. They helped move furniture. They arrived on my doorstep with freshly cooked meals at times it was beyond me to complete a grocery shop. I had no idea of the quality of friendships I had in my life until those kindnesses became necessary to my daily survival. On an earlier overseas trip, I had the most incredible encounter with a beautiful Thai lady. She witnessed a nasty argument between me and my teen aged daughter then patted my arm as we watched my daughter stomp away. In her broken English she told me it made her "heart hurt to see mothers treated that way". She hugged me as I wept and brought me a drink of water.
She might have been a stranger, but we were connected. It didn't matter that she was Thai and I was Aussie. It didn't matter that I was Christian and she was probably Buddhist. What mattered was that we were connected through compassion, kindness and shared understanding. This memory felt deeply spiritual to me as I relived it again in Bali with the words still echoing their refrain, "Our true religion is kindness. Our true religion is kindness. Our true religion is kindness..." Be kind to one another I discovered this quote by Patricia Adams Farmer who describes 'The Cosmic Commandment' this way: "In a process world, the quantum world, the connections between us are deep and mysterious and invisible, like sub-atomic particles that we cannot see but are nevertheless vibrating with a song that could be entitled 'Be Kind to One Another'." There are still many other things I don't know for sure but I truly believe Acts of Kindness resonate in us and between us. It's in our share to give and receive kindness whenever the opportunity arises. There is nothing purer than acting out of kindness and compassion for someone without any thought of your own reward. And there is nothing more beautiful than being the recipient of such kindnesses. In the words of Henry James, "Three things in human life are important: The first is, to be kind. The second is, to be kind. And the third is, to be kind."
Catherine is a teacher, life coach (linedwithsilver.com.au) and single mother of four. She loves trying to keep all of those balls in the air but fails spectacularly at times. Perfectionism and people-pleasing seemed to be written into her DNA but she's slowly releasing expectations imposed by others and settling into a more generous view of a loving God at the same time. Catherine's goal is to experience life in lots of different places and to use every wrong turn as an opportunity for learning. She resides on the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia. See all previous articles by Catherine Joy