Last week, the drawing above was delivered to me by an articulate young man named Dylan. He found me in my ice cream den in the back of the shop and proceeded to explain he'd nominated me for a 'Kindness award'. He told me all about a group he belongs to at Easthampton's Center-Pepin school called the Junior Leadership Club. Their assignment was to find someone they thought was 'kind' and invite them to a little pizza/cake party to be held during the next meeting at their school. He went on to describe why he thought I was kind - that it was nice I gave away all that ice cream during last October's freak snowstorm, and that I brought enjoyment to Easthampton with my shop. To say I was caught off guard and humbled by this confident young second-grader would be an understatement. So when I turned over his drawing to discover on the other side an invitation to their Kindness Party, I knew where I was going to be that following Wednesday afternoon.
I really had no idea what to expect from a meeting of first and second graders, but I knew I couldn't disappoint my new friend Dylan. The meeting started with the twenty or so members sitting in a circle on the floor of their cafeteria. Sitting with them were parents and their nominated invitees. After a brief overview of the club, Jane Lohmann, organizer/volunteer/parent extraordinaire, explained that the theme of the club this year was 'kindness'. Throughout the school year, they played games and completed projects that all related to kindness. This included demonstrating acts of kindness through skits and building a giant bulletin board to display the many acts of kindness they've observed..
Then it was time for each member of the club to introduce their guest and explain to the group why they thought this person was kind. Dylan repeated the same pitch he gave me in my kitchen the week before, without a hint of shyness. A future leader I have no doubt. Others described the kindness of their guests - 'because he's my best friend'. 'Because she's really nice to me.' 'Because he lets me play with his stuffed animals.'
Guests included grandmothers, teachers, mothers, fathers, and friends.
I felt honored to be in the company of such kindness.
After all the nominees were introduced, we played a game, 'what's your favorite ice cream flavor', (I've played that one once or twice), then ate pizza and cake, kindly donated by Antonio's and Big E's. It was an hour well spent with the future leaders of our free world.
Of course, as I walked back to my shop, I couldn't help but let my mind wander, as it often does, to the depths of my deep thoughts on life and happiness. Wouldn't it be nice if kindness and sharing and childlike wonder weren't things we so often outgrow? I thought back to a list on finding our own meaning of life I'd recently surfed into. Who are you? Why do you matter? What's your life motto? What's the key to happiness?
Could it really be that simple?
I thought about the simple criteria a second-grader uses to find kindness in others. A nice teacher like Ms. MacKensie who listens with genuine empathy. A friend who shares their stuffed animals. A buddy who eats lunch with them every day. A grandmother who reads to them.
Then I started to form a list of my own... That employee who stays late so I don't always have to. The friend who spent ten hours building a working volcano with her son for a school project. The customer who chipped in a handful of change to the kid in front of them who didn't have enough to cover that bag of candy they'd meticulously assembled. The many volunteers of BearFest 2012 who gave countless hours of time and hard work to make such a fun day happen and continue to happen all summer-long. That guy Pat we all know who started the Easthampton Good News Page. The friend who said goodbye to his simple artist life by adopting a young child. The buddy who's been selflessly taking care of his estranged wife fighting an unwinnable battle with cancer. Jane, along with partner Megan Harding, who volunteer their time every week to teach a small group of kids the meaning of kindness.
These are the acts that define us.
Maybe it is all about kindness.
I'm reminded of an old video store saying that used to be plastered to the side of those VHS tapes back in the 'old days'.
Well, the 'rewind' part has gone the way of the dodo bird and the video store, but I think the rest is still some sound advice.
Thanks for reading. And thanks to Dylan for the nod, you are our future and a genuine source of my optimism for it.