The Defiance of Being Kind

I am not a kind person. A generous person? Check! Dedicated, warm, ambitious, loyal? Check, check, check, check! But kindness has always baffled me. It’s an afterthought, an observation I make about the behavior of other people. It’s the realization I have once I’ve already plowed through the pot luck line, bee-lined to the dessert table to secure my seven-layer bar, and hot footed it to claim my favorite table. As I sit down, pleased with myself, I look up to see a kind person helping the little old ladies or someone else’s kid or really anyone but herself make their plate. And I think, “Huh.” That’s it, that’s all I’ve got. “Huh.”

I’m a Southerner. Just ask my husband when I’ve had too much to drink or re-read that whole pot-luck thing above. My accent when I’m toasted and my staunch commitment to vinegar-based barbecue speak for themselves. And the old adage that “everyone in the South is so niiiiiiiice” is entirely true. I am most definitely nice (for the most part). But nice and kind are two distinct beings. Nice is saying “Bless her heart” in public when in your head you’re thinking “fuck that cheating bitch!” Kind is assuming you don’t know her story and instead of offering your judgment, offering your smile. See, there’s a difference.

When I talk to my superhuman friends who are moms and PTA Presidents and realtors and church finance officers and gym rats and entrepreneurs all at the same time, they don’t want more money, more time, more sex. They have realistic expectations. They understand deployment, promotion, and adult temper tantrums. They made peace long ago with the terms of their marital contract and they are not reneging now. What do they say they want? What will save their marriages? Kindness.

Huh.

As an adult, the desperate need for kindness in my life and the lives of those around me has required that I pay more attention to being kind. I can take care of the vast majority of my own needs. I have a cell phone, a credit card, a vibrator, and a healthy appetite for good wine. I could do life on my own again if I had to. What I can’t do by myself is connect. At a time in our lives when the vast majority of us can take care of ourselves, kindness is what connects us. It’s why we keep certain friends and let others go. It’s how we choose where to eat, where to get coffee, where to get our car fixed. It’s why what we want most from our partner is the assurance of grace, not the promise of perfection.

One thing I have been struck with since moving to Tennessee is how kind the people are. Not nice. Kind. Almost universally, the people I’ve met aren’t. just interested in surface compliments or platitudes of help. They are legitimately interested in me the person and in how they can make my life better, easier, softer, and more orange (it’s Tennessee, ya’ll). This community of kindness has been unexpected but deeply appreciated. It makes me wonder if that is Tennessee’s defiance, their comeuppance to a world that is often times cruel, ridiculous, and loud. They are kind. Period.

I’m not sure I know how to be kind, but I’d like to learn. I’d like to practice doing instead of observing. I’d like to be kind instead of nice. I’d like to give those I care about most what they need. I’d like to save my marriage before it needs saving.

So, if you see me in a potluck line anytime soon, and I look like I’m ready to bolt for the dessert table, please just gently turn me around. I’m pretty sure there’s someone in line behind me that would like a seven-layer bar.