On accepting acts of grace.
This article is cross-posted from my weekly newsletter, The Sunday Soother, a newsletter about modern spirituality and useful tips for creating more meaning in your life that goes out every Sunday morning. To get more content about how to infuse your life with thoughtfulness, reflection, and meaning, subscribe here. I am also a holistic personal development coach. You can learn more about working with me here.
Happy Sunday, friends. This will be an abbreviated email, because life got a little ahead of me. This weekend, I was consumed by the final session of my year-long certification of my integral coaching and personal development guiding program. I tested and passed the certification — one of the great accomplishments of my life, and certainly one of the most intense experiences I’ve had. So many thanks to the people I’ve coached along the way in service of my training (most of them readers of this newsletter — deep gratitude to you). More thanks to my peers and incredible teachers. And I’ll tell the rest of you more about it soon.
But first. Last week I had promised to write about the time my engagement ended. I wanted to reflect on what it means to leave something that you know you can’t do, but that feels deeply like a failure and you don’t see a way out because of pressures and expectations (most of them, your own!). I will write about that eventually.
But today I was moved to write about kindness.
Several months ago, I was visiting my friends Brad and Anastasia who had recently had their first baby. I loaded up on take out food in the Adams Morgan neighborhood to bring over to them for dinner, and was carrying two heavy bags several blocks to their place. As I was wandering along, both bags — simultaneously! how awesome! — completely split in the middle of a busy sidewalk, sending the food crashing everywhere. (The containers of delicious food miraculously mostly stayed intact.)
As I scrambled, alone, and embarrassed by my situation, I stewed. People raced passed me, on their way to wherever, with their own thoughts, and I thought, “Typical D.C. Seriously, not even one person is going to stop to acknowledge this? To help me out?”
I had those thoughts for approximately three seconds before I was surrounded. One couple stooped down with me and gathered the food. They had been getting their own takeout for dinner, and took out their food to offer me their plastic bags to use (I’M SORRY WE WERE ALL USING SO MUCH PLASTIC PLZ FORGIVE US). Another guy raced up, and said, “I was on my way grocery shopping — but here, you take my reusable bags, you can use these.” Another woman stopped to help me replace all the food into the bags, too, and offered to help carry it the rest of the way.
I was briefly overtaken. This was, like, obviously, a minor thing. Strangers saw me in a spot of trouble, they stopped, they gave me their things, they went on their way.
But it felt like more.
I was reminded of that time when I read this post from Cup of Jo this week about thoughts and experiences of kindness. As of right now, the post has nearly 400 comments on it relating readers’ own experiences with strangers and kindness, as well as many people sharing how they were moved to tears reading these brief stories.
Even as I recalled my experience with strangers helping me with my tumbled out take out dinner, I felt tears well up, too. Why was that tiny memory — a blip, really, in a year of other significant things that happened — why does that spark me to emotion? Why were all of these blog commenters weeping at the remembrance of a small kindness done by a stranger a decade ago?
It struck me then that right now, society has a strange relationship with kindness. When it happens today — it’s an outlier. When something tiny but kind takes place, we remember it years later. An act of grace from somebody we’ll never see again can be the one thing that can move our soul to tears.
We live in a society that is starved for kindness. Kindness has become a stranger to all of us, and when we experience it; when we give it; when we witness it; we hold on to it as an emotional morsel to sustain us over the coming decades.
How did we get like this?
I don’t have an answer to that, but as I was pondering writing this newsletter, I thought of all the acts of kindness and grace I was given over the past year as I went through my coaching training — and how loathe, honestly, I was to receive them or to allow them in. How much of the work I’ve gone through has been to receive kindness in my life, and how foreign it has often felt to me to accept it.
I thought about how when I was dumped a couple of years ago, I showed a few colleagues how truly sad I was about it (very out of character for me, especially in the workplace) — and how that afternoon they came to me with a care package they had put together on the fly with a book, chocolate, wine, a card.
I thought about how sad and desperate I felt one evening a few months ago, and how, again, out of character, I last minuted texted a friend to ask if he would hang out, and how he probably dropped his plans that night without complaint and came and cheered me up.
I thought about how, knowing how hard this summer had been for me, some girlfriends and my sister planned a get-together — with one girlfriend literally flying in for the evening to surprise me, with her adorable daughter — to sit with me and drink wine and laugh. (Her tiny daughter did not partake in the wine drinking, for the record.)
I thought about the joy and celebration people showed for me as I neared the completion of my program, though I tried to brush it away and pretend like it wasn’t a big deal to me.
And I thought again about those strangers on the sidewalk who gave me their bags, even as I steeled myself to feel cynical about how I would have to clean up my mess alone because everybody was too busy to stop or care.
Finally, I thought about the times I had bitterly thought that kindness was not available to me — when in fact it was my own walls that had been keeping it out.
Maybe it feels easy to you to ask for help or receive kindness, but I think for many of us, it feels as impossible as climbing a faraway mountain we’ve only read about in books. I don’t know that giving kindness is such a difficulty for us. But I think receiving it is. Many of us grew up thinking it was a weakness to receive kindness, that it said something about our own inabilities.
But a deeper part of us knows that when we are joined briefly in an act of grace from others, it speaks to a true and honest part of who we are as beings. And that’s part of the reason that when we all come together in spontaneous kindness, it makes an indelible mark.
So as I go celebrate today with colleagues and family — and as I plan to accept their excitement and joy for me, even though it feels stiff and strange to do so — I make these asks of you:
Soften when you need help.
Move past the cynicism when somebody offers you a show of grace.
Accept an act of kindness, whether it’s from the person closest to you or a stranger.
And consider that the act and practice of receiving a kindness is as important as the act of giving it out to others.
I know it may not feel like it today, but for me, I now deeply think that kindness is not random, or a surprise. It is an essential part of who we all are at our core.
It’s time for us to start remembering and believing it.
PS: Season two of my podcast is out today, and the first episode deals largely with questions of grace, mercy, and kindness. You can listen to that episode here.
PPS: Thanks to Naomi, Tim, and Nicole for your Venmo support last week. Want to buy me a cup of coffee in thanks for any value you found in the Soother today? Venmo me here, or Catherine-Andrews-5, or paypal at firstname.lastname@example.org