I try to focus on the word kindness, to find meaning in the concept. It’s useless. No idea comes.
Instead, a memory, and not one of a kindness given or received. It is one of those that forms unbidden, in early mornings or late at night when the quiet allows things pushed away into the corners to creep out and demand attention.
In the memory, he is eighteen years old and stands beside me. I am in the kitchen, where moms spend a lot of time, my hands busy, taking care, doing one of the small tasks that make up my one best job.
“I have to tell you something,” he says.
His standard method of communication is to abruptly launch into loud and long dialog while his audience either keeps up or watches the blur. This unusual attention-getting preamble means it is serious. He often does this when things bother him, while he wears an expression both morose and tragic. Usually the situation is not at all as serious as his attitude suggests. A speeding ticket, a plea for funds, a need to unburden a concern.
He shifts his feet. I finish what I am doing and give my absolute attention to him. He takes a deep breath and blows it out, a hard, fast exhalation.
He looks so very small, suddenly. This is not guilt, or a request, or a confession. It is something else. He is troubled and sad.
“A long time ago,” he says, “when we were at church, a lady said something really mean.”
My heart squeezes. This is about his little brother.
A tingle starts between my shoulder blades as the muscles tense, but so many things are open to interpretation. I try to relax. I tip my head to the side and nod for him to continue.
He tells me the words she said and the words, though spoken years ago, are sharp. “Kids like that” and “Shouldn’t be allowed” and “Normal” and more. They buzz in my ears. Though he repeats them quietly, they are too loud and hurt, hurt, hurt. The air and sun of seasons gone by have not diluted their terrible power to cut.
The greatest danger of motherhood is the inevitable vulnerability of her tender, unguardable heart.
He stands there, with little boy eyes and slumped shoulders. He has borne this burden a long time, taking the arrows for his brother, for me. The man and the boy are all mixed up. Here is my child, made a man too soon. Here is my child, now a grown man with a five o’clock shadow at eleven in the morning, carrying boyhood wounds.
Why would a person say such things to a child about his younger sibling? I want to bind my boy’s hurts, to gather up the pieces of his grief and take them away, to cry, to scream, to use my own words against the one who has injured him so. Instead, I am quiet and motionless. Tight anger is my shield against overwhelming helplessness.
He will not tell me who. He says he doesn’t know her. He doesn’t remember. But his eyes shift. Still taking arrows, he stands on these denials with fists clenched tightly around small secrets. There is nowhere for my Momma Bear fierceness to go.
I offer cliché-filled wisdom and rub wide circles on his broad back, pat his arm. We talk. I fix him a glass of sweet tea, give every bit of motherly comfort I can scrape up.
Life goes on and I try to forget about it, to disregard the mutterings of a mean-spirited woman and the scars left behind. I say to myself, “This is her problem, not mine,” and I shake my head at people like that.
Yet it haunts me. The pain in his eyes, and the unspeakable words she said swirling in the air and in my mind, never fading.
Kindness. This was not kindness. Then, out of the salt, I know what to do.
I pray for her.
I am surprised by the way it washes me, this act of kindness. And in this, I discover an even greater act of kindness, one toward myself. In one step of faith and obedience towards forgiving the unforgivable, the impossible happens.
Healing and freedom begin to take root.
In one step of faith and obedience towards forgiving the unforgivable, the impossible happens. (Tweet This)
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