Reflections on Kindness….and Coffee

She limped into the coffeeshop, the heavy fracture boot throwing her walk askew.
“What happened to you?” the young man behind the counter asked, with a tone of genuine concern.
She was taken aback. Why would he care? He was young, good-looking, and could easily afford to be self-absorbed if he chose. She was–a wreck. Young, too, but she didn’t feel it any more. Her scars ran deep.
“Well,” he seemed oddly at a loss for words, “I’m–glad you’re alive!”ravens-prayer2
She was startled, but there was a place deep in the pit of her stomach that flip-flopped even as she felt an embarrassed gratitude. He wasn’t flirting, and she wasn’t trying to make something out of it. It was compassion, and she was grateful for it.
How many times have I said “hello” to someone, especially someone older than myself, and found them brighten in response. As I near 40, it occurs to me with some chagrin that I am now on the receiving end of those young day-brighteners.
And have you ever met with a friend for coffee, and while talking learned of her deep struggles, her life-changing decisions?
I often think that sometimes the best thing we can do is be kind (though let’s exclude one-liner quotes we might find on teabags). For all our web connectedness, we are missing out on personal human interaction. Even offline, we are all so busy we don’t have time to put away our phones and sit down with people–just to talk. Just to say Hi. Just to have a cup of coffee.
Reflecting on the value of kindness. I keep meeting people who just need to hear a kind word, have someone take an interest and care. I think about all the times someone did that for me, especially when I was struggling with depression. Sometimes it means the world.

The girl in the coffeeshop never forgot the barista’s kind words, even after her leg was long healed. There are enough Unkindness-es in life. Words (or lack therof) and actions can keep the world harsh and cold, or shine a light in a dark time. All it takes it one minute of genuine kindness.

Hmm, I should pitch that to Yogi Teas….

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Long-lost Art

Finally, after years of deprivation, I’ve managed to scavenge some drawing chalk from a long-forgotten stash. These were actually my “substandard” materials at one point. I used to use them for sidewalk drawings. I never thought they were good enough for my “real” work. Ah, how things have changed!
I know, “deprivation” sounds like hyperbole to someone who doesn’t get what art is: a deep, gnawing hunger in the soul. Not to be sacrilegious, but my need for art isn’t that much different than my need for my faith. Though my faith affects many more areas of my life than it once did, so I suppose in that way it has taken a step ahead of my art.
It’s also like my need for my other driving passion: ballet, even though my dancing ability has long been lost and since crumbled away on the dusty road of my past. And for years I’ve denied myself painting, drawing, even sketching, because there was no room, no time, no money for materials. Once every few years it would get to be too much, I’d scrape together a few dollars for some low-grade acrylics or drawing pencils, and knock out a few hasty paintings or fill the last few pages in an old sketchbook. Nothing I was ever really happy with. I even had a mediocre showing or two when my daughter was a baby. I can’t imagine sustaining that sleep-deprivation now, not after prolonged illness. But back then, it was easier to keep going than to stop and rest and have to get up again. So I would plow through, settle for less than my best, and defray the cost…until now.
Now, I’ve managed not more than a few scribbles in the past year. I thought the passion was dead, and maybe it still is, but the hunger is still there. Starvation. It’s worse than living without love. And, the more miserable my physical health makes me, the more I crave anything that nurtures my spirit and keeps me a little further from despair. My faith community is now a long, slow, hazardous, winter drive away, and with love and companionship, even friendship in scarce supply due to schedules and priorities, what’s left? After I’ve given all I have and more to motherhood every day, what’s left to replenish me?
Another pursuit I’ve been trying to resurrect is recreational reading: so far I can only focus on well-written fantasy. Everything else becomes a soon-forgotten blur. In the latter of two well written fantasy books I’ve managed, I found a few lines incisive:

“Beauty is no end in itself, but if it makes our lives less miserable so that we might be more kind–well, then, let’s have beauty, painted on our porcelain, hanging on our walls, ringing through our stories. We are a sorry tribe of beasts. We need all the help we can get.” (Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister by Gregory Maguire. Regan Books, an imprint of Harper Collins, copyright 1999. p 367)–forgive me if my citation skills aren’t what they used to be–rusty.

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I finally worked the chalk over a large sheet of newsprint (I always hated working on brittle newsprint! but it’s cheap & disposable, lessening the artist’s reluctance and attachment), remembering what my art teachers used to say about getting the process going. That method consists of circles, mostly: large, shaded circled. I used to be so frustrated by them, but now they were all I had the confidence to start with.
The result was electrifying. Intoxicating. I felt like I’d finally been let out of a small, dark space I didn’t know I was in. What I sketched was crap–a few shading exercises and a quick–very rough–sketch of a woman’s head, soon to be joined by some contributions from my children. But it was something. A drink to a withered soul, a few crumbs to the starving. A passion I can maybe rekindle if it’s not too dead. And if my hands and shoulders will take the repetitive motion.
Even one rough sketch now and then might keep my spirit from drying up and blowing away. And my trees: my lonely, dead trees that almost no one likes or understands. I miss my trees.