Today is World Kindness Day. Given that my purpose is to ‘Be kinder and help others to be kinder too’ it feels like it’s a proper celebration day for me. In fact, even as I write this, I have a tingle of excitement as I think about the difference that could be made if anybody was just a fraction kinder to themselves and to each other.
To start the day off I shared some quotes via twitter. And so I thought I’d share them here as well.
Always try to be a little kinder than is necessary - J. M. Barrie
I like this because it uses kindness as a scale rather than as a binary setting.
Kindness is a language that the deaf can hear and the blind can see - Mark Twain
I like this because, to me, it means that kindness is accessible to all, and can be felt by all.
Beginning today, treat everyone you meet as if they were going to be dead by midnight. Extend to them all the care, kindness and understanding you can muster, and do it with no thought of any reward. Your life will never be the same again. - Og Mandino
Even if this could only be sustained for one day, what a wonderful day that would be.
In a world where you can be anything, be kind
Probably my favourite thought. For a while I had this written in the front of my notebook. I love the idea that we can choose what or how to be. And that kindness can be that choice. And is never a bad choice. (I don’t know who originally coined the phrase, so no attribution. Sorry!)
So, today, on World Kindness Day, can you choose to be a little kinder to those around you? I’m going to give it my best shot.
Today would have been my Mum’s 84th birthday.
I use “would have” in that sentence deliberately. It “isn’t” her birthday, she isn’t alive, and “is” implies, to me, that she is. Neither “should” it have been her birthday. “Should” always feels to me like an obligation kind of word, so I try and avoid it when I can, and “should have” suggests a resentment I don’t feel. So I’ve settled on “would have”, as a short form for “would have been her birthday had she still been alive”. Along with “died”, “passed”, “passed away”, “passed on”, whatever other phrase one hears about the end of life, I believe that an individual should get to choose how they refer to a loved one’s death or life events and that others should respect that and respond accordingly. I try and do this, though it is sometimes tricky, and can change with time, and the healing process.
Anyway, that’s all a digression. I wanted to write about my Mum and her birthday. Mum’s birthday was always a cause for celebration in our family. Much more so than Dad’s. And, as I got older, more so than mine. It was an opportunity to make a fuss of her, and we took it. The two of them often came to visit me wherever I was at the time, and, at least when I lived in London, we’d take in a West End show, or something equally special with her (one year we did a day trip to Paris!).
On her 67th birthday weekend in 2001, just after Richard and I had moved to Brighton, they told me about Mum’s diagnosis of dementia. I wasn’t prepared to hear that. I didn’t understand what it meant and would mean. In hindsight, that’s both a blessing and a curse. In all honesty, I don’t think I was prepared to accept it for quite a few years to come. I knew it. I saw it. But I couldn’t equate what was happening, and what we were losing, with my Mum. My Mum, the woman who nurtured me, who taught me to read, who taught me to love language, who gave me (posthumously) the gift of singing in a choir, who made me laugh, made me cry, smile, frown, and everything in between.
As the years progressed, and her dementia worsened, Richard and I would go to Hull for a weekend around her birthday. I remembered the other day that on one of her birthdays we signed the paperwork that put her power of attorney into action. It felt like a betrayal at the time. It was a convenient time to do it, but it felt like a cruel birthday gift. On reflection, though, I realised that it was the kindest birthday present we could have ever given her. It safeguarded her future. It meant that when Dad died, I had all the paperwork I needed to take over her affairs and that there was no interruption or uncertainty in the continuation of her care. Another year Dad, Richard and I spent her birthday weekend visiting care homes for her to move into. Again, it felt like a betrayal at the time, but again such a valuable gift to have people who love you choosing on your behalf to find a safe, friendly, warm place for you to live.
I miss both of my parents all the time, sometimes a little, sometimes a lot. Some dates are more significant than others, and this is one of the more significant. It is a bittersweet time. So many happy memories of times spent together. But also memories of the year on year decline I saw in her later years.
I am incredibly grateful, and feel very fortunate, to have had those happy times to miss. This brings its own sadness with it and leaves me somewhat tender today. But I am choosing, as I have done every year so far, to try and remember my Mum as the lively lady she was, to focus on those happy times. And so, this evening I’ll be cooking spaghetti bolognese, raising a glass of red wine, and eating a slice of cheesecake in her honour.
Towards the end of July I realised that my daily practice of writing ‘Today I’m grateful for’ was becoming a chore not a delight. I was writing just a few simple words for each thing. This seemed to defeat the whole point. So I had a rethink.
For my birthday a friend bought me a beautiful creamer jug. It had sat in its box for a couple of months while I decided what to do with it. I could use it as an actual jug, but I felt that it wouldn’t see the light of day that often, and that seemed a shame for something so pretty.
I’d read of the concept of a gratitude jar many months before but hadn’t thought it would work for me and, at that time, I was happy with my gratitude practice. But, armed with my pretty jug, some brown paper cut from a notebook, and an ink pad and stamp I decided to give it a try. (I used the stamp and ink pad to prettify the outside of the first notes I wrote)
The size of the notes encourages me to write a few sentences, rather than a few words, which, in turn, encourages me to write more descriptive text. The fact that they sit on the bookshelf in our spare room, the room in which I spend a lot of my research time, allows me to easily pick one out and revisit it whenever I want or need. This is something I never did when they were hidden in my notebooks, and they probably wouldn’t have enough depth to them to give me that pathway back in the memory either.
Last week I emptied them all out in front of me, and then randomly picked them out, read them, refolded them and put them back in the jug. I’d written more of them than I remembered writing, and they took me back to places that weren’t at the front of my memory. They left me feeling full of emotion, and with a wide smile on my face.
As with all things like this, it’s a work in progress. While it works for me I’ll continue doing it. When it doesn’t, I’ll shake it up and change it around. For now, though, it feels like a beautiful use for a beautiful jug. And for that, I’m very grateful.