What Really Matters

I recently conducted a memorial service for a young woman who had taken her own life. She left behind a loving husband and her five year old daughter, as well as her mother and siblings. It was, in every sense of the word, a tragedy.

I had only met this woman briefly on a few occasions, but she made a big impression in a short time. She talked about having just received an advanced degree and starting a new job. She said she was looking forward to becoming a part of our congregation and enrolling her daughter in our religious education program. She was one of those people you wanted to be around. She seemed so full of life and hope and dreams. That’s why I had such a disconnect when I received a call from her sister, telling me what had happened. “How could someone like that do something like this?” I asked myself. It made no sense. And then in conversations with her family, I discovered that she had been waging a life-long battle with depression and bipolar disorder, and I realized that all was not as it seemed on the surface.

As I have reflected on this woman’s life, and her death, these past few weeks, I’ve reached a simple, but perhaps profound, conclusion: All of our lives are incredibly complex. Each of us has much more going on than we like to admit, to each other and perhaps to ourselves. Every one of us has a story that we hold deep in our hearts, that is ever unfolding, minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day, and we are much more than we appear to be. We all wrestle with our demons, and yet we present brave faces to the world. And even when we think we know someone well, there’s a lot we don’t know.

Knowing that every one of us struggles, every one of us hurts, every one of us is so much more than meets the eye, we must, in our every encounter, treat each other with kindness. Kindness is the healing balm of the soul. Kindness must be our “default” mode of interaction, because we don’t know what the other person is really going through.

In her poem “Kindness,” the poet Naomi Shihab Nye writes:

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
it is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.

With this young woman’s death, I realize that it is “only kindness that makes sense any more.” It is kindness that we have been looking for. Kindness is the only gift we can give each other that will ever really matter.

This day, and every day, I wish you peace.

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