Remember Proverbs (Cultivate Kindness)

cultivate kindness

That’s something I never thought I’d do: start an essay by referring to the Bible (or any other religious text). It’s so not my style. First of all, I’ve never read the Bible so quoting the Bible or anything remotely Biblical is beyond me. The Bible would be one of my nightmare categories if I ever competed on Jeopardy! or any other quiz show. Along with sports and pretty much anything to do with geography.

jeopardy-fav-quiz-show

I think of myself as more of a secular pagan (if there is such a thing) than anything else: I love feasting and gift giving but for reasons of all kinds and on a daily basis, not because of any religious foundations. I’d much rather celebrate solstices, equinoxes, the seasons and nature. And kindness as an everyday way of life. Which leads me to Proverbs.

I didn’t get there by myself. The author Alex George took me there in his book Setting Free the Kites.

On page 39, the main character Robert, after the new kid at school, Nathan, defends him from the school bully, is being told by his mother, ” ‘So now he needs you to be kind back. Remember Proverbs: Do not let kindness and truth leave you. Bind them around your neck. Write them on the tablet of your heart.’ She smiled at me, and I knew the game was up.”

Do not let kindness and truth leave you. Bind them around your neck. Write them on the tablet of your heart. 

This struck me as possibly one of the most important things I’d read in a long time. (If you must know, it’s Proverbs 3:3, according to Google.) Words spoken by Solomon, who I was thinking about just the other day. Really.

A story I do remember hearing often is that of two women both claiming that they are the mother of a fought-over baby and King Solomon, deciding the case, advises cutting the baby in half. I was always horrified by what was called the wisdom of Solomon. But of course the upshot is that he correctly surmises that the woman who says she will give up the baby is the real mother. In her love, she’d rather give him up than have him hurt.

lego-bible-solomon-baby
Maybe the story wouldn’t have scared me as much if I’d seen it told with Legos.

I have to remind myself every day to be kind. As much as I wish it always came naturally to me, it doesn’t. People try my patience and elude my understanding. I find myself being judgmental, envious, dismissive. Working in an animal shelter, I see both the best and worst in human nature. It is both heartwarming and heartbreaking, part of the unpredictability of being human.

I felt called upon to be Solomon not so long ago when two women were arguing over who should get to adopt a particular dog. Would Solomon have suggested cutting the dog in two and seeing how the women reacted? Neither was willing to step back and let the other adopt the dog. I had to make a decision based on our first come, first served policy. Whatever my decision, one of the women was going to be very angry with me. My interior voice was saying that there are plenty of little brown Chihuahuas (also called LBDs, Little Brown Dogs) to go around so let’s not argue over that particular one, but I can’t say those things out loud. I really don’t like the feeling of having made someone angry and unhappy. And if I had handled it better, two dogs would have gone to new homes, not just one.

I wish I had remembered the wisdon of William Ury rather than Solomon. Ury is a noted writer, speaker, negotiator, and helped found the International Negotation Network with former United States President Jimmy Carter.

William_Ury
William Ury

Here’s his amazing TED talk, The Road to Yes.

 

I am familiar with William Ury from his book The Third Side: Why We Fight and How We Can Stop.

the third side

 

I automatically went to the role of arbiter in the dog dispute, but I could have explored other roles. If I’d only had the book with me and the time to consult it! As an introvert operating in an extrovert job, I find myself not always thinking fast on my feet. I like to mull things over, reflect, and formulate my responses. I’m terrible at witty answers to stupid questions, too.

One of my go-to sources on postings about life as an introvert is Introvert, Dear. I’m not alone in my need for time to respond. Plus, if I said the first thing that comes to mind, I could get in a lot of trouble.

Rottenecards-Customer

The motto “the customer is always right” really sucks sometimes. Because the customer isn’t always right. Alexander Kjerulf listed 5 reasons why the motto is wrong:

  1. It make employees unhappy. True. We take a lot of bad mouthing and abuse and smile while we do it.
  2. It gives abrasive customers an unfair advantage. Absolutely. Squeaky wheel syndrome. Bad behavior is rewarded.
  3. Some customers are bad for business. Yes, anyone causing a ruckus at any place of business will turn off other customers and they will go elsewhere. Or we will get a bad Yelp review.
  4. It results in worse customer service. If we are tired, humiliated, frustrated, we may unintentionally reflect that to clients who are there with the best of intentions.
  5. Some customers are just plain wrong. They are. And sometimes we have to convey that to prevent harm to an animal. Tactfully, of course. Our ulitmate priority is the health and safety of the people and the animals we serve.

I can list many examples of all of these points, some funny (the male dog returned after 2 hours because the woman felt awkward explaining to her 6 year old about male body parts), some sad (the elderly woman who fell in love with and wanted to adopt a particular dog but her son said no because he didn’t like the breed mix), some infuriating (people who insist on animals living outdoors despite evidence that animals who live indoors with their human families generally live longer, healthier lives), some downright puzzling (the woman who pointed to a kitten and asked “do you have that one in gray” as if she were shoe shopping). And don’t get me started on some of the phone calls we field!

John Cleese
“You want me to come catch the wild turkey in your office parking lot?”

We all have bad days, make mistakes, could use a little leeway. I try to keep that in mind with the people I deal with. I wish everyone kept that in mind when dealing with others: we don’t know what another person might be going through, what might be making them act they way they do, what their story is.

cant-we-all.jpg

cake

In a world where you can be anything, be kind. To each other, to animals, to the earth. To yourself.

be kind.jpg

A song I adore (got to get a musical reference in here somewhere!) that speaks to love, kindness, and writing them on the tablet of your heart is Clem Snide’s Find Love. Love is an infinite commodity. The more we give, the more we have.

 

I do have a quibble with Proverbs. Our hearts are not tablets. That to me implies stone, a hard substance that wears away with time. I think of the metaphorical heart as able to grow, to be nourished and to provide sustenance, more like a garden. Apparently Jesus said that hearts are like gardens too (I didn’t know that, I just Googled “the heart is a garden”). I also discovered a poem by Katherine Merrill, Heart’s Garden.

Heart’s Garden

By Katherine Merrill

My heart is a garden where thought flowers grow.
The thoughts that I think are the seeds that I sow.
Every kind loving thought bears a kind loving deed,
And a thought that is selfish is just like a weed.

So I must watch what I think each minute each day,
Pull out the weed thoughts and throw them away,
And plant loving seed thoughts so thick in a row,
There will not be room for weed thoughts to grow.

Buddha also compared the heart to a garden. As did Oscar Wilde. I feel like I am in such good company on this one!

buddha

Oscar Wilde

If this is too high-minded for you, think of Dr. Suess’s character the Grinch and his tiny little heart that grows when he discovers the power of love and kindness.

photos-of-grinch-mask-template-moldes-varios-pinterest-grinch-heart-grew-sizes.jpg

You might have noticed I haven’t addressed the truth side of the Proverbs quote. Is it possible to have kindness without honesty? Honesty without compassion is cruelty, I’ve heard someone say. Bruce Kasanoff writes about the downside of honesty without compassion. Maybe brutal honesty is just brutality. Michelle Reid addresses the question of whether honesty and kindness can coexist, and they can, if we stop and think before we speak. And I’d add, reread and think before you hit send on a text or email.

Think-before-you-speak-LAMINATED-motivational-chart-rainbow-colors-classrooms-and-educators-poster-B079NBQMP8

If I am honest with myself at this moment, I should go fold that load of laundry waiting in the basket. But I’m going to choose kindness, and get back to my reading.

happy-making-5-201

Peace and hugs.

Bright lights, long shadows, and mementos

Memento:  something that serves to warn or remind; also: a souvenir.

bracelets

When I looked up memento on Merriam Webster, I wasn’t expecting the word “warning” to be a part of the definition. But given the reason I looked it up, it’s actually apt to include warning in my thoughts. Then I looked up memento mori, thinking of the movie Memento (Christopher Nolan, 2000) and the story Memento Mori (Jonathan Nolan, published 2001). “A reminder of mortality.” Yikes. Even more appropriate. I followed up with memento vivere (a popular tattoo according to the internet): in Latin, remember that you must live; a reminder of life, a reminder of the pleasure of living.

memento poster3 Ryan

 

Christpher and Jonathan Nolan
Christopher and Jonathan Nolan. Jonathan came up with the story and proposed it to Christopher as an idea for a script. Jonathan’s original story was published after the movie was released.

 

I read a line in a book I just started, Setting Free the Kites by Alex George (2017):

But such a bright light casts long, dark shadows.

George’s narrator is speaking of his friend Nathan, but it made me think of a dear friend of my own.

 

Late last year, a friend of mine took her own life.  She was a bubbly, enthusiastic, cheerful person. So many of us were stunned that her bright light hid such dark shadows. Pain, despair. She was always helpful to everyone else, but left her own needs secret from us.

She befriended me and my dog Einstein when we were new in the neighborhood and feeling friendless. She and her Friday dog invited us on walks and playdates. We both joined a neighborhood book club. We went out together to concerts and restaurants. I didn’t see her regularly or often, but when I did, I always felt comfortable (hard for an introvert) and had a good time. She had the most amazing smile and dimples. Laughter came easily. She really was a bright light.

Just last weekend her family held an estate sale at her house down the street from me. I briefly thought of going in and picking up some memento of my friend. I couldn’t do it. I drove past on my way to work and kept going. Partly, it seemed ghoulish, going to a sale at her house and going through her things to buy something. I decided I’d prefer to remember her one of the times we went out together, for tacos at Xolo and then a Damien Rice concert at the Fox Theater on April 23, 2015.

 

 

I had bought 2 tickets, hoping I’d find someone to go with me. Trying to be a “glass half full” kind of person and hoping for the best, I posted that I had an extra ticket. She was the first to respond. She wasn’t sure she knew who Damien Rice was, but it wasn’t just about a free ticket. She wanted to do something with me; it felt genuine. We met at Xolo, had a great meal and caught up. At the Fox, I had splurged on not terrible tickets. We goofed around taking photos of the giant Hindu-deity figures that flank the stage.

We chatted with the people in the seats on either side of us. We were mesmerized by Markéta Irglová, who opened for Damien and also sang backup on a few of his songs. She recognized a few of Damien’s songs. It was a great night.

marketa.jpg
Markéta Irglová

 

Life got busy for both of us. We didn’t see each other often. She changed jobs, worked a lot of extra hours. I changed jobs twice. My schedule shifted to weekends and evenings. We liked each other’s Facebook posts. She was always the first to respond when dog Einstein posted on his Facebook page (he can be quite witty). At some point, she wasn’t responding any more. I didn’t give it a lot of thought.

Another mutual friend messaged me, asking if I’d heard the news. She was gone. I went to the service, cried with her friends and family, wished I’d noticed something was wrong. We all asked what we could have done. Maybe that’s the memento I carry forward–an awareness of suicide prevention and the ending of the silence around suicide. As well as the notions of memento mori and memento vivere: remembering our own mortality and embracing life.

end the silence

 

My mother passed away in 2009. I have several mementos of her, but one of my favorites and maybe one of the silliest to an outsider is her beloved cookbook, Noted Cookery: Favorite Recipes from Friends of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra (1969).

Noted Cookery

It’s hard to explain how much this cookbook meant to my mother and the sentimental value it possesses for me and my siblings. We still cook some of her flagged recipes from it, as they are old family favorites and standards at family gatherings. They aren’t vegan, so I don’t indulge anymore, but I still have fond memories of helping mom make the Broccoli Puff or the Hello Dolly bars (aka 7-layer magic bars).

 

The cookbook, one of those fundraiser efforts of recipes submitted by various community members, was a Christmas gift to my mother from her sister Isabelle and her family in 1970, part of the reason for its importance to Mom.

Noted Cookery signed

 

As kids, we were fascinated by the list of contributors, some of whom we had heard of and I still don’t know what their connection to the Dallas Symphony was (but it doesn’t really matter; they generously contributed). Mrs. Bob Hope (Bob Hope’s Favorite Lemon Pie) and Danny Kaye (Chicken with Peppers) were notable among them. Later, I saw names that I had come to recognize: actress Loretta Young (Bride’s Delight), opera great Leontyne Price (Crabmeat Imperial), Mrs. Lyndon Johnson (Pedernales Chili), Mrs. Ross H. Perot (Crabmeat Aspic Salad and Mocha-Nut Tortoni), Mrs. Ronald Reagan (Sweet Potatoes Supreme and Orange Sparkle Cookies), Mrs. Richard Nixon (Apricot Nut Bread), violinist and conductor Yehudi Menuhin (Birchermuesli), actress Greer Garson (English Trifle).

 

Don’t discount that lemon pie. Bob Hope lived to be 100, and Dolores Hope to 102. And Danny Kaye is said to have loved to cook and to have been quite a good one. Food writer Ruth Reichl, in a piece she wrote after Kaye’s death in 1987:

“It may be the sense of timing he developed as a comedian, or the balance he learned in music. It may be the generosity of somebody who gave so much of his time to charity. Or the sheer gusto of the baseball lover (you should have heard his discourse on hot dogs). Or maybe it was the much-vaunted hand-eye coordination that made his cooking so incredible. But there was something more.

Danny Kaye didn’t cook like a star. He didn’t coddle you with caviar or smother you in truffles. He had no interest in complicated concoctions or exotic ingredients. His taste was absolutely true, and he was the least-pretentious cook I’ve ever encountered. The meals he made were little symphonies–balanced, perfectly timed, totally rounded.”

danny cooking

 

Some of the recipes in Noted Cookery horrified us. Hot Citrus Fruit Salad? No thanks! Same to the equally horrific Hot Pineapple Salad on the same page. Blech.

Hot Citrus Fruit Salad
Make and consume at your own risk.

 

Others we loved, partly for the names. Johnny Bozzini, You Asked For It. Remember, it was 1970 and these recipes ddidn’t seem quite as odd as they do to at least me now. Lots of canned soups and weird things in jars.

 

The cookbook was lost in a house fire in 1987. Mom managed to save the page with her beloved sister’s inscription, but the rest of the cookbook was a charred lump. She put the remnant in a plastic bag and made the recipes she loved best from memory. Years later, around 2004, I was volunteering at a library fundraising book sale. I always look at the cookbooks for hidden gems. There it was, sitting on the shelf, easily recognizable to me with its ochre yellow cover. For fifty cents. I grabbed it, feeling the sense of excitement I might have felt finding a rare first edition of Catcher in the Rye. I managed not to spill the proverbial beans on my weekly phone call with mom, awaiting the look on her face at the surprise when I gave her the book. My next visit, I presented the book. I don’t remember if she cried. More than likely she did. We cry easily in my family; tears of happiness as well as tears of sorrow. We sat down and perused the old recipes. A trip down memory lane. She put bookmarks in at the old favorites, even though she knew the recipes by heart.

When she passed away a few years later, we were going through her things. Somehow that cookbook had taken on an even greater significance for me after having reunited her with it. It’s a memento of her and our earlier family life that I treasure. It sits with my other cookbooks, rarely used but often fondly brought out just to look and remember.

Not so long ago, my sister Ellen texted me that she was making one of the old favorites from what we call the Dallas cookbook: Chicken Tortilla Casserole. Back in 1970, tortilla chips were an exotic thing in Atlanta, so Mom made the recipe with Fritos instead. I’m trying to figure out a way I can veganize this recipe just for fun.

IMG_2251
Not one, but two cans of soup.

 

If you are feeling hungry and inspired to cook, you too can have this gem of a cookcook. I just found it listed on eBay for $5.95. Better idea, think back to a cherished memory and a memento that you can treasure the way I treasure the nostalgic memory of a family, safe and happy, laughing and enjoying a meal together, or the memory of a dear friend who made me feel special.

Memento vivere.  Remember to live.

memento vivere