on kindness

Strangers are usually really kind to me.

Sometimes I like to pretend that this is because of some particular virtue of mine. Actually, scratch that: I harbor a deep-seated certainty that this is because of some particular virtue of mine. It’s only intellectually, not emotionally, that I realize that the kindnesses I receive–little things, but they happen often: offers of help with bags, smiles, friendly chats–are mostly about a constellation of intrinsic factors, elements over which I have no control. I’m petite, white, female, habitually non-confrontational, and, like a sheep, typically smiling, even at rest. I know this, intellectually. But it’s very difficult to feel.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot because the past week has been more than usually kind to me. I was in the UK for the New Chaucer Society Congress, after which I visited and stayed with two of my friends and their families. Both the Lewises and the Regans were incredibly generous with their time, space, food, and friendship, and I constantly found myself fighting back tears of gratitude. Sunday, the 17th, was also my 30th birthday, which brought me the well-wishing of strangers and even more kindness from my friends. It was a joyful, soul-filling week with wonderful people in some of my favorite places, and I’m so grateful for it.

At the same time, though, that I was having this extraordinary week, the world was having a terrible one. And though Imwasn’t keeping up on the news very closely, I certainly knew enough for the juxtaposition to haunt me. It’s no accident that the words kin and kind are at the root of kindness, and throughout the world people are refusing to recognize the kind-ness of other people, a refusal of kindness that is devastating, deadening, and deadly. But I felt drenched in it, part of the family–kin–almost everywhere I went.

The first time I visited the UK I was twenty years old, spending a term studying abroad.I thought a lot about that version of myself over the past week. Twenty-year old Haylie was so happy to be in London, so excited about the world, but also: so very, very sad. My family had collapsed over the previous couple years, and I was having frequent panic attacks. I felt, not unloved, exactly, but love hungry. I was surrounded by kindness then, too, but less able to access it; I couldn’t feel secure or safe in my friendships.

I felt so much tenderness for twenty-year old Haylie over the past week, but also so much gratitude and relief. Because she pulled through. I’ve never felt happier than I am now, or luckier. And I do deserve the kindness I’ve received, but (and this is important) only because we all do. Thank you to all of you for extending it to me. I promise to do my very best to radiate it outward.


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