In past years, I have often led retreat days based on the theme of “Cultivating Kindness.” It is a topic that remains ever fresh for me. As I reflect on “kindness” I am both comforted and challenged. Comforted because the topic conjures up significant memories of people who have been extremely kind to me, especially in moments of great need. Challenged because there are situations when I do not want to take the time, inconvenience, risk or vulnerability to extend kindness to another.
A few weeks ago an amazing incident of kindness landed, literally, on my doorstep. Imagine my wonderment when I opened the front door to retrieve my mail and found beside the mailbox a tall container consisting of three or four mailing tubes neatly taped together to form one long cylinder. “What on earth can this contain?” I thought to myself as I brought the long item inside the house.
I couldn’t have been more surprised by what it held. As I unwrapped the mailing tube that was cleverly and painstakingly put together, I pulled forth the content and let out a “wow!” I was looking at a magnificent walking stick. Included was a note from the sender, whom I’ve not met, telling me he’s a Texan in his late eighties. He proceeded to describe the Sol Tol cactus from which the walking stick is made. Then he wrote, “I came upon this plant all by itself, crying ‘find me a home’.” It was then he decided to make a walking stick for me. I couldn’t believe the trouble this man went to in creating the gift and in figuring out how to mail it.
As I stood there, gift in my hand, the word “kindness” came to mind, along with thoughtfulness, generosity, patience, care. Not only did the reception of the walking stick bring me joy, it resurrected my awareness of how one touch of kindness from another engenders our own desire to be kinder. I’m reminded of a wise quote of Edward Hays:
“A watermelon produces a thousand good works!” This Islamic saying originated when watermelons were mostly eaten out-of-doors so their seeds dropped to the ground to become the source of countless new watermelon plants.
While appearing to be an innocent folk proverb this Islamic saying about watermelons contains superior spiritual advice. Our good works, like watermelons, also contain seeds, invisible yet richly fertile with potential for more good. Watermelon wisdom says to be lavishly careless in doing good deeds so that the tiny invisible seeds within your works will be generously scattered everywhere. Pray that as you leave the scene of your crime of kindness, you will leave behind you a long and broad trail of tiny fertile love seeds.” (Fr. Ed Hays, A Book of Wonders)
One aging man in Texas planted a seed of kindness. I plan to water and watch over that seed with care so it will produce more kindness when I go about doing my own life.