How I Learned to Be Nice after 19 Hours in the Car with My Family.

Kindness is not optional. Not really. Not if you want to flourish as a human being. You can have the best diet in the world, eat the best food in the world, but if you eat it in anger, it won’t do you much good. Because your food is only as good as your digestion. And your digestion is only as good as your mood. And probably, your mood is only as good as your relationships.

Spending 19 hours in the car with my wife and kids, crisscrossing the state of Washington, dipping into Canada, visiting my family, visiting her family, sleeping in sway-back beds, being allergic to cats—well, it gave me lots of opportunities to practice kindness. I wish I could report 100% success. Hardly. But somehow, in my failures, I did reconnect with my basic desire to be kind (like some sort of long-lost core value), so much so, that I wrote a poem about it and made it a mantra for 2015.

I’ll share the poem with you in a moment, but I’m curious, what do you do to reconnect with your own values, your people, your story? Connectedness is no small thing in the search for human flourishing and I find that it requires something of me, some sort of practice or ritual, some way of waking up and being mindful in the world—especially when the heat is on. For me that takes the form of writing gratitude poetry, going to church, meditating, writing longhand letters, and making voice recordings for an old friend from college.

What is it for you?

Kindness doesn't happen by accident, at least not for me. It is, instead, the long-looked-for fruit of something else. Something both larger and more mundane.

Human Flourishing, Shalom, Eudaemonia, or whatever you choose to call it, is a thing built of nourishing routines, repetitive ways of being, that are both individual and corporate, physical and spiritual, narrative and non-narrative.

To me, that sounds like a worthwhile project. And as I work towards it, I find that I like myself best (and others too) when I proceed, not only with gusto, but with irony, charity, and humility. All tall order to be sure. But that's what does it for me. And that's what I'm hoping for in 2015.

Kindness Again

for travel with family
and all its dislocations
to keep me mindful that kindness
is a perpetual vocation
that takes constant effort
constant plying of the trade
constant self-talk and pre-meditation
constant vigilance and words to be weighed
weighed in the balance and found wanting
by a conscience so often taunting
how come I’m not better at this?
the parade of forgiveness is daunting
where does it end, when?
at dawn, at dusk?
how many sentences must i amend
before the maddening clutter
of life together and all that makes me shudder
is just a memory, a yearning
a graying in my head
where every retrospect is cleansed
by nostalgia, pulling me back with desire and dread
to do it: All. Over. Again.
and not change a thing
every hassle, every headache, every sting
plus one more thing
in me, around me, through me, and to me
in a world with little to recommend it
but the chance to unbend it
a little each day
the chance to leave it slightly better
and certainly not worse, before I pass away
how come I’m not better at this?
it doesn’t matter
i’m grateful i care at all
and why is the intention on paper so much better than what comes later?
it doesn’t matter
the main thing is, it’s pinned to my wall
to the memory board of my mind
where i search my soul
where i seek and sometimes find
a vestigial kindness
which sprouted once, pale green shoot, in pale green youth
before the withering world-glare, the searing blindness
of getting real, getting tough
the wan discovery that i was never enough
before covering myself in steel
hating the softness inside my peel
drying, desiccating, till all within
was as hard as the scars
that stitched me in
snug and solid
a kind of crystallizing sin
walls within walls, halls within halls
except for that stubborn, flickering ember at the end
that quickening cinder
which couldn’t get out
and so drove deeper in
where it could be safe from all the safety
and bide its time till then
when it could, my sun-core twin, ignite and glow
that i might
just might
be kind again