I want to tell you about kindness. It’s a word that you hear me say often. “Scarlette, can you be kind and share your crayons?” I ask during coloring time at the library. “Scarlette, that was not kind” I say when you throw your snack cup at a little boy in frustration.
You are too little to know this now but kindness will shape your life in the best of ways, even when it doesn’t feel like it.
When I was growing up I had the great blessing of spending time with a woman named Vonne, my grandmother and your namesake.
Your father and I made elaborate lists of names for you, our first and only child. “Lila? Mia? Anne?” we volleyed back and forth over the dinner table. “Veto” one of us would reply as we laughed and touched my ever growing belly. “I want to name her for my grandmother” I repeated.
Your father never knew her. On our wedding day, she accompanied me down the aisle in a pearl studded picture frame tied to my bouquet. “Why?” he asked me as we scanned a set of bottles to be added to a baby registry.
“Because, I answered simply, she was one of the best women that I have ever known. She was so kind.”
I wanted you to hold a part of that legacy, Scarlette, the way she was kind.
On her days off she drove to the homes of church members who were housebound and took them to their doctor’s appointments or to visit the graves of their husbands. At eight years old I pouted when she told me that Ruthie would be accompanying us to the store.
She pulled the car over. “Kayla Aimee,” she said and the use of both my names often reserved for scolding was gentle but insistent and my heart sank at the soft disappointment I heard in it.
“Kayla Aimee, you may not understand now but the greatest way you can love someone is to show them kindness. Ruthie can not leave her home and she is lonely. It would be very kind of you to share our day with her.”
I grew to love Ruthie too.
I wish I could teach you lessons the way she could, without guilt or fear but with love and intent. It is my hope.
When I was in the sixth grade there was a girl named Helen.* The other kids called her Lizard. I did not want to be her friend. She was a nice girl but at eleven years old I did not care as much about nice as I did about avoiding attracting any attention that might earn me an animal name of my own. I did not want to be a target. I just wanted to be invisible.
Every day she waited for me outside of Home Ec class and talked to my quiet form as we walked down the hallways to the next one. I tried ducking into the bathroom after Home Ec but she just followed me in there and chattered outside of my stall about how she was going to try out for the cheerleading squad. “Why would you do that? Don’t you know they are just going to be even meaner to you?” I wanted to ask her.
“Why do you let Lizard walk with you to class?” my friend asked me as we laid on her bunk beds.
“I don’t….she just sort of shows up every day. And don’t call her Lizard, that makes you sound like Regina George.” I said.
“Whatever. Why don’t you just tell her to stop talking to you? People are making fun of you because of her.”
“I don’t know, I mumbled as I glared at the ceiling in misery, I just can’t be mean to her.”
In a new millennium a kid named Mark Zuckerberg would invent Facebook and suddenly the past would invade my living room and faces long left in yearbook pages would stare out from my inbox.
One single private message would read “Thank you for being kind to me in middle school. It meant a lot to me.” Signed simply, “Helen.”
I would have mixed emotions, remembering too well the resentment at I felt at her infringing on my invisibility but being gentle with myself in reflection. I was an eleven year old girl who just wanted to avoid public ridicule and desperately wanted to be kind to others and could not reconcile the two within the scenario that occurred each and every day after Home Ec. I fell short of kindness but sidestepped mean in my attempt at navigating social standings and fruits of the spirit.
Don’t get me wrong, Scarlette. I have been mean. I have sat on the other side of this story and watched myself become a Regina George, mocking and hateful. I will tell you of those mistakes too, because the choices we make may only last a night at a sleepover or a second at a keyboard but they linger in other hearts longer.
It is my hope, though, that as we go through this life together, mother and child, you will store away in your heart what it means to be kind. That you will watch as we give up our seat for someone else, as we let an elderly woman cut in front of us in line, as we say a kind word to the harried mother who has dropped her purse in the middle of the store while we retrieve it’s scattered contents.
That when it is hard, you are brave enough to choose kindness. And that if you don’t, you grow and you learn and you get better at it. Until one day, when you are in your twenties and the woman in front of you berates the cashier you will lean on that lesson and you will speak gently, kindly and you will offer an extra measure of it to the shaken girl behind the counter.
Perfection is rarely achieved and I don’t demand it from you, even in this. You’ll fall short, you’ll regret, you’ll bite your lip and later wish you’d done something differently. There is grace enough to cover all of that. But be always striving to be kind.
Because kindness leaves a legacy, even the smallest moments of it.