Amid the tsunamis of cruelty drowning the planet, the day of endless kindness began as Joan and I watched Maine waves roll in for the last time. We unwrapped the breakfast sandwiches we had bought at the grocery store. On each, written by a server who had once seemed distant, then mellowed when gently treated, was a heart face, a smile, and “Have a safe trip.”
Then we pondered the hog-the-beach ritual spread in front of us. Even before sunup, more and more folks pre-emptively build beach cities of chairs, umbrellas, windbreakers and tents, then leave. To crest the dunes is to wonder if that wall down south blocking “bad” from “good” people has migrated north.
We flinched as this time one person fed the wall but did note his spread was minimalist. As he trudged back up past our beach bench, I bracketed judgmentalism and cheerily, I thought, teased, “That was cruel, making us watch beach setup just before we have to head home.”
Instantly he turned defensive: Though his family had the privilege of living nearby, minimizing the chaos of bringing his children to the beach was worth setting up early.
I tried to signal I had been teasing about having to watch setup just before going home but sensed we were talking past each other. When he left, Joan went down to say goodbye to the waves while I kicked myself: “You have got to stop deadpan teasing when people don’t know you well enough to get it. You deserve to be misunderstood, since early setups do annoy you even if you didn’t mean to take it out on him.”
Minutes later, I looked up. “I just had to come back,” he said. “I thought, I have the privilege of being a year-round Mainer, and need to represent my state better than I did. I was sensitive because early setups have gotten people mad; there have even been social media dustups.
“Because I thought you were mad, I wanted to explain that I don’t mean to hog the beach.
“Then after I left, I kicked myself. Because when I played back the conversation, I realized you were just teasing about having to watch setup before ending vacation.”
“And I was sitting here kicking myself,” I replied, “for being a deadpan teaser easily misunderstood.”
We reflected on how good it felt to make peace and how often these days we egg each other on instead of paying attention to the inner voices nudging us to kindness.
Joan and I neared home. I said maybe we should drive around until nightfall to avoid seeing what the lawn looked like after being unmowed while rain endlessly fell. Reluctantly we confronted reality.
And were stunned: The lawn was mowed. We texted friends. Did you do that? No. Son-in-law? No. I analyzed the mowing pattern where it met my neighbor’s lawn. The lawns looked seamless. Wow, did he really do that?
Then a knock: neighbor. With muffins and his own fresh-grown tomatoes. Whoa! “Did you mow our lawn?” Yes.
As eight rambunctious siblings and I grew up, we were not fans of hearing from our parents, “And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you” (Eph. 4:32).
But on that day when kindness instead of meanness seemed endlessly to ripple out, I wished my parents were still here so I could tell them, not even grudgingly, “OK, OK, I get it!”
Michael A. King is publisher of Cascadia Publishing House and blogs at Kingsview & Co., cascadiapublishinghouse.com/KingsviewCo.