Ordinary Kindness

29 Jan
Photo via Flickr user Heath Brandon

Photo via Flickr user Heath Brandon

There is no spiritual practice more profound than being kind to one’s family and neighbors, the cashier at the grocery store, an unexpected visitor, a stray cat or dog, or any other of the usually irrelevant and invisible beings who may cross our paths in the course of a normal day. Certainly there are spiritual mysteries to explore, but as we mature it becomes clear that those special experiences are only meaningful when they arise from and return to ordinary kindness. –Bo Lozoff

I love this idea of ordinary kindness being the normal, every day buzz that extraordinary moments arise from and return to, the status quo, the baseline, if you will. I love that being kind to neighbors and clerks is a profound spiritual practice.

I’d like to think I am good at being kind to cashiers and stray cats and my family. I think about giving my best love to my family all the time and often follow through, yet from a very young age my parents taught me how to have compassionate peripheral vision and to humanize people in small encounters who could potentially feel invisible. I could stop there and feel pretty good about myself.

Then again, this morning I heard Dorothy Day and her Catholic Worker houses mentioned on the radio, and it gave me pause. Is ordinary kindness enough as the zone from which we live? If I had an unexpected visitor at my front door, my idea of kindness would be much less generous than Dorothy’s. She would invite the person to move in with her as long as he or she needed a place to stay. I just can’t say I’d go so far.

How far does our faith call us to go?

I can’t seem to shake a quick encounter I had at work a few weeks ago. I was cleaning out a closet that had net been tended to in years. I was in the mood to sort things between recycling, donating, reusing or trash. I stopped one of our custodians to apologize for hoarding the trash bins and ultimately giving him more loads to take to the dumpster. His response has played in my head again and again, “It’s okay,” he said earnestly. “If you don’t create trash, I don’t have a job.”

This man is from El Salvador and doesn’t speak English very well. Every time I see him I stop and have a conversation with him in Spanish. I show him ordinary kindness all the time. I could stop there and think myself profound and my work complete. And yet. We currently live in a world where my role is to create trash and his is to clean up after me. In that case, I’m just not sure that ordinary kindness is cutting it.

I do believe, like Lozoff said, that ordinary kindness it is a profound spiritual practice. True. I’m going to keep practicing it. I also believe that my co-worker, without knowing it, is calling me to more.

 

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