Forgetting to be awesome: Reflections on Travel

With our exit of Jerusalem and reentrance to the West Bank, a brief reflection on the difficulties of travel.

Death by a thousand cuts. Traveling with people can resemble an ancient execution method. Each joke, each small slight, each frigid day, each unexpected interruption, each stinky sock pricks at your consciousness like a thousand small needles. With bitter word staining my lips, I whisper darkly to myself: “Don’t they know I’m busy? Don’t they ever pick up after themselves? Don’t they know how offensive that is?” It was the bitter aftertaste this bile left on my tongue that helped me begin to realize how easy it is to forget to “be awesome” to those around me.

You see, it’s fairly to justify a lapse in “awesomeness,” in small kindness. To blame a sharp remark on school stress, a morning scowl on lack of caffeine, and conversational apathy on sleep deprivation. I’ll whisper: “I’ll make it up later after all, when the work is done and the coffee made and the nap taken. One slight doesn’t matter. I show up in the important things after all.”

At my high school graduation, a family friend consoled me “Make the right decisions about the small things and you will make the right decisions about the big things.” Here on my travels, with readings to do, tension in the air, and people swirling around me, those small decisions and kindnesses have gotten lost in the rush.

Kindness is a muscle, a capacity we choose to exercise and develop

Kindness is a muscle, a capacity we choose to exercise and develop, rather than a simply a reflex. Studies of happily married partners consistently show that couples with the greatest satisfaction in their marriage are those that see kindness as something they choose, rather than something that just happens. When I think of intentional kindness, I think of my mother. I felt loved not because of her long carpool drives or flowery words at my birthday or the price tag on my gifts. I remember being loved because a woman of immense intellect and capacity chose to listen to my after-school rants, chose to set aside her work and sit on the floor and play with my trains, chose not to react to the barbs of teenage angst I let fly from my lips during my teens. In a similar vein, when reflecting on this trip, I think of our Professor’s kind words, his countless shrugging off of our sharp comments, and his small gifts of time and affection for his wife. Just as a body is be brought low by a thousand small cuts, a soul is brought joy by the giving and receiving of a thousand small kindness.

“…a challenge to DFTBA (Don’t forget to be awesome) in the small everyday things.”

Last Wednesday, the liturgical calendar entered the season of lent. The ascetics of ages past have fasted, whipped themselves or undergone other trails of flesh to bring themselves closer to God. For lent, I’m pursuing a different trial: Joy by a thousand kindnesses. It is a challenge to DFTBA (Don’t forget to be awesome) in the small everyday things. It’s a thousand small choices, decisions I will often fail at but will yet strive to do better the next moment. I hope you’ll join me in this challenge.