Book Review: Beartown by Fredrik Backman

Hockey season is over, and this means two things: I am no longer doing my kegels during the National Anthem and I have time to read books in long stretches – instead of when the Zamboni is making rounds. I grabbed this book off the Target shelf after a now immemorable bad day and carried it around toward the end of the season, and just got to it this week. I was doubtful I could handle the emotional load of reading about a bunch of teenaged hockey players and a tragedy, but the cover was nice and I didn’t want another romance or American marriage introspective.

The novel begins:

“Late one evening toward the end of March, a teenager picked up a double-barreled shotgun, walked into the forest, put the gun to someone else’s forehead, and pulled the trigger.

This is the story of how we got there.”

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Fredrik Backman’s Beartown is situated in, well, Beartown. Like many elements of the book, the town itself is archetype: small town that used to be great, once great men down on their luck, a bar, a factory. What makes the town, like all of them, is the characters who reside within.

A club president who, upon our first introduction, is “sitting at his desk eating a sandwich the way a German shepherd would try to eat a balloon filled with mayonnaise” (60).

Peter, the team general manager who is almost anachronistically conflict-averse, husband to fierce Kira and father to key character Maya and Leo.

Sune, an established coach in risk of being pushed out in the name of progress tells a player: “Community is the fact that we work toward the same goal, that we accept our respective roles in order to reach it. Values is the fact that we trust each other. That we love each other . . . culture is as much about what we encourage as what we actually permit” and explains that this means “that most people don’t do what we tell them to. They do what we let them get away with” (210).

Ana, Maya’s best friend who loves hunting with her father and reminds us that the gender disparity in hockey goes beyond US lines, in that “Girls aren’t allowed to like hockey even just a little bit in Beartown” (330).

Benji, arguably the greatest character in the novel.

And many others.

Backman commands the universal here: “A simple truth, repeated as often as it is ignored, is that if you tell a child it can do absolutely anything, or that it can’t do anything at all, you will in all likelihood be proven right” (79) without schmaltz, and this generality contributes to an almost fairy tale sense, “There’s a town in a forest that loves a game. There’s a girl sitting on a bed playing the guitar for her best friend. There’s a young man sitting in a police station trying not to look scared” (250).

“There are two things that are particularly good at reminding us how old we are: children and sports” (37).

While I’m not sure how much this story will translate to readers who don’t know hockey, anyone who has experienced a love of something, whether it is sports or hobbies or whatever, so deep that it is a core part of their life can understand the implications that come when what you love seems to have hurt someone you love.

Backman’s writing is as clear and lovely as an Ikea catalog, and I wonder if this comes from its original language of publication (Swedish) or the accuracy of the translation (Neil Smith) or both. The pace is fast, and I found myself speeding through passages to get to the next discovery only to force myself back, to slow down, and not miss important details. I thought I had the book figured out from reading the back in the Target aisle, and I was pleasantly surprised to find my predictions incorrect on nearly every level.

Beartown goes far beyond hockey and examines problems within youth sports, the very real existence of rape culture and how it often masquerades as low grade sexism and “tradition”, marriage, the raising of children, and the simultaneous beauty and brutality that comes with raising a family and a community.

I cannot recommend it enough.

Solstice Square Mom

December 21, 2017

***

Crumpling newspaper to start tonight’s fire wasn’t intentionally symbolic. The house was quiet, dogs outside, and I had already swept the floor so that I wasn’t sitting in a pile of wood chips and sand and dog hair. But as I separated the glossy ads (they don’t burn, friends) from the newsprint, my eyes scanned the pages as they always do. Some afternoons I spread the paper back out. I read a piece I missed, or re-read one that was especially interesting and it takes a ridiculous amount of time to start the fire. Tonight I scanned, and I thought about this year, and I closed my eyes. I used it all, the last of the assorted New York Times and Bangor Daily News that we had stacked up in preparation for the winter. I crossed my legs and rolled my shoulders and touched the lighter to the paper. 
If winter solstice is a time of preparation, change and growth, I am ready. The internet says that today, December 21st, is the worst day of the year. At the risk of tragedy in the next 3.5 hours, I know that there were worse days in 2017. This is bad, but not the worst. 

We decided this week that my boy, who looks 32 but whose frontal lobes are woefully undeveloped, will split his time between my house and his father’s. I have an essay from a day in 2012 where I made the call and his father didn’t answer; this year he answered. The calls were similar. “Help,” I would say. “What I am doing isn’t working”. It’s true – nothing is working. My interventions and appointments and lectures have left me feeling like a caricature of the squarest mom in Squaresville. I keep checking myself. “Do I really believe this?” I want to know on a full scale, like when he is actually 32, that this might have helped. That I’m not making a cosmic mistake.   I do believe in the expectations for our household, for the way we treat ourselves and others. I think he does, too. Otherwise I would not be fighting. 

Wise advisors of mine once told me to work when Colby was small. “Wait until middle and high school,” they told me, “you’ll need the time then”. I find myself passing a different flavor of this advice onto my friends. “Save your energy,” I tell them, “I wasted a decade refusing to let my kid eat sugar cereal on school mornings. You know what doesn’t fucking matter? That. Save your energy”. 

So we are here, in different houses but tucking ourselves in for longest night of the year. We need this long night to think and rest and shift. 

***

“I’m all done growing,” I sobbed to my mother earlier this year. I can remember crying in front of her (outside of teenaged rage and no the irony is not lost here but I don’t want to talk about it) exactly zero times before this year. I’ve lost count in 2017. “I don’t want any more lessons,” I told her. “I’m done learning. I’m done”. 

I did not get to be done. 

***

On this longest of nights, I have the smallest window of clarity. I am not out of energy because the universe is not out of energy. Without the worst days I would not have been forced to look at all the pieces of my life and adjust accordingly. And there are people all around this kid of mine, holding him up and cheering him on. Different is not wonderful, but maybe it isn’t worst. 

A winter solstice has never been more welcome, not for the dark, but for the light that I have to trust is coming. 

Gratuitous Pictures of Dogs and Miscellaneous Early Mid-Life Musings

I can’t stop watching my dogs play. You heard me correctly – dogs – plural. A soccer mom friend asked me “What were you thinking?!” as I was tangled up in two on the sidelines. “I wasn’t,” I replied, “Everything’s easier that way.” All joking aside, the universe lined up. Our new boy is an untrained, skidding everywhere, pees-when-he’s-excited heart salve and every single person in this household loves him. He makes the little dog better, and I think he makes all of us better. There is no magic medicine for melancholy, but puppy love is pretty damn close.

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I am still gutted. I am loading the dishwasher or teaching a lesson or on the phone and a wave a grief pulls me under and I just. can’t. breathe. I am underwater. I make actual lists of the great good fortune in my life, but then I button pants and I did not expect to be wearing real pants right now. I am walking and talking and meditating and medicating and doing everything in my power to just feel better. And I am, sometimes, better. But I do wonder if I’m holding on to this what if, this almost, because I’m afraid this is as close as I’m going to get. I am sad and I just can’t imagine what my life is going to look like when I am no longer actively parenting. I’ll complain all damn day about how hard my kid is but that does not negate my desire to parent until the day I die.

Cooper and Sweet Pea are smoothing out the edges.

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These boys are doing their adolescent jobs and preparing me to be ready to let them leave. This is code for they-are-driving-me-fucking-crazy and I-thought-I’d-be-better-at-this. The highs are high and I wonder what I will ever do without them; the lows have me searching for boarding schools with financial aid that start tomorrow. Like I will pack this car and drive you there right now heart of my heart and fruit of my loins. While I’m busy worrying about their social skills and general academic competency they are out there doing exactly what they need to do (and probably some shit that they shouldn’t but anyway).

We spent an evening at the sweatiest college fair of all time. I felt a flutter of hope as I heard the boys asking questions that I NEVER expected to hear from them, “What is the expected SAT score?” and “Tell me about life at _______.” My heart is expanding and contracting at such a furious rate I have zero faith I will survive until graduation. All those 20-something college reps? The best entertainment of the night was watching them pack up to get them SUM DRINKS. You should have seen the eyes being made across that field house. I almost pissed myself. Oh, to be 20-something. I just wanted a shower and yoga pants.

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Hockey season! The crown jewel of my year. I love peace and friendship and all that shit but GIVE ME SOME HOCKEY so I can regress like a proper human.

We had nearly full-family participation in spirit week. If you are not a high school student or a teacher you have blocked this memory out. It is when zero learning takes place over the course of one week because football.

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Mama/Ms. W as Madonna for Decade’s Day – The English Department is full of characters and friends and we NAILED it with 80’s icons ALLLLLL day. Also my getup scared the dogs so much I couldn’t get them inside. No sparkls mma plz wi scurd.

Kid did not go with either of these outfits but solidly represented Bill from Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. Class color day and Bangor day were fully observed throughout.

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This picture does not do justice to the perfection that is Mark Bittman’s popover recipe with Trader Joe’s Everything But The Bagel seasoning. I would eat these every day.

What else? OH! I fixed MY OWN DAMN CAR!

This is a much longer story, but here’s the Spark Notes version: BF borrowed my car, car came home broken, I lost my shit, but then I googled shit, and texted my ex-husband, then I got my code scanned, bought parts and fixed this damn thing. Thank you, YouTube.

It turns out this old dog still has some capacity for new tricks.

I hope the rest of this month finds you well.

Heather

September, again.

Here we are, again. September seems to be exactly the same as all teaching Septembers are: Crazy busy, dazzling weather, lively students, the edge of a nervous breakdown.

 

So, remember when my dear pup, Sam, was ill? And I wasted her last few months mourning her in advance? Because I am the way I am, the thought of her just DYING on me was unbearable. I needed to know that she was okay or not okay, in pain or in rest. If I was going to spend $200 on a necklace made of ashes (I didn’t – yet). Did I forget that things happen and I have no control over this all? Yes, absolutely. Am I doing this again, always? Yes, absolutely.

Who was it that said that they feel like they are in control, they have the steering wheel in their hands, but it turns out they are in the back seat and just pretending? Was it Anne Lamott? Glennon Melton? That’s the situation we have here. Except I am alternately grabbing onto that wheel for dear life, and throwing it right out the fucking window.

I’m looking in the backseat of my empty minivan. Colby is a Junior, so is *BK. I am crying when I miss a minute of Colby’s soccer game and also swearing to send him to prep school because he won’t GET THE FUCK OUT OF BED.

I’m sitting with loss and straddling a river the size of the Mississippi – Will there be more? Or will I be content with what I have? I want to close my eyes and pick one – and that’s that. But I can’t. Each choice could be right and wrong in direct proportion. The problem isn’t the choice, really, it’s me.

I’m dancing with my boyfriend in the endless ‘do we’ or ‘don’t we’ and ‘how’ and ‘when’ on the floor of misnomered blended families.

I want to sell my house and buy a condo. But I also want to stay there and make room – make a home. I want for the pieces of my family to come together, to revel in the chaos of a new adventure. I want to sleep with my own person in my own bed every single night.

If I keep going like this, though, I risk wasting everything that is right HERE and right NOW. I have Colby home now. BK is home now. We may not be in the same home but we are certainly not far apart. I have had moments in my life where I made a decision just to have the process over. Very few moments of my now are going to be easy, but I’ve looked elsewhere enough to know that what comes after is more than worthwhile. There is no way out but through, and I am wasting my through.

My challenge, this year, is no longer that of making lunches and checking homework. It is to be right here, right now, even when I would rather be anywhere else. And that is far more challenging.

 

*Bonus Kid

Found and Lost

There is a $5 Maclaren stroller sitting in my barn.

Early in yard sale season my partner and I were out. We drove through a subdivision not far from home and saw signs of life. “There,” I pointed toward a split level ranch with a minivan parked diagonally across the entrance. He turned, we parked the car, grabbed our still-hot coffee and ventured over.

I saw the stroller before I saw anything else. I walked over while glancing around – my condition was certainly not public knowledge and followed directly after an early loss. I was holding my joy gingerly and privately.

I didn’t see anyone I knew, and so made my move. “Max,” I said, “I want that.” He looked at the $5 sticker, ducked his bald head toward his shoulder in approval, and took out his wallet. We looked the stroller over before sealing the deal. He fiddled with the back latch and deemed it an easy fix. I unfolded a rain fly that looked as if it had never been used. A pack of tow-headed boys swirled around us, not minding the detritus of their childhoods on sale. A woman matching the boys came over taking her hands out of her money apron. “Ah,” she smiled. “We loved this.” I loved it, too. The boys looked – happy. As they talked and walked through the common stroller set up conundrum, I looked from the stroller to the contents of the driveway. I could see the trajectory of these boys’ lives unfolding. I imagined the red top was faded from games and vacations. The back latch bent from a quick stop maybe, the handles worn from trips to and from the neighbors – chasing siblings and company.

We paid and I grinned as I drove the stroller toward the car. Our first purchase – and a steal!

I parked the stroller in the barn, a patch of red reminding me that we would soon be 7. An auspicious number. I slept grew and kvetched about my restless legs and vomited. Until I didn’t.

Now, whenever I go into my barn I see two worn handles peeking out behind the couch and I’m not sure what to do. I planned to send that grand old Maclaren into retirement, but now? I washed and folded my much loved maternity shorts and packed them away in my hope chest with a book and the ultrasound pictures. I can justify not passing these on – no one needs bad luck maternity shorts –  was an easy call. I can’t even fold up the stroller, much less pack it away. And I don’t really want anyone else to have it.

I know we are done now. We are surrounded with more love and fortune than most, and the only thing I am trying for is contentment. But for now, I think, the Maclaren stays.

Re-reads: Good in Bed

My first Jennifer Weiner book was In Her Shoes. The last time I saw it, many years ago, it was held together with a thick rubber band I had stolen from a stalk of kale in my refrigerator. The book was tattered; coffee stained and dog eared, its appearance confessed exactly how many times it had been read. In Her Shoes never returned home, but I still have many of Weiner’s on my shelf. I return back to them periodically, as needed.

I jumped off the deck of the Facebook ship late spring and have been reading ferociously ever since. If reading was my escape as a child it is 176% more so now at 36. But, I’m still operating on the same budget. The obvious benefit is the ability to drive my own car to Goodwill. I found a copy of Good in Bed and Little Earthquakes on discount book day, and stacked them on my living room bookshelf. I just finished (again) Little Earthquakes and then Good in Bed.

This was a smart move for many reasons. I had been disenchanted with Hungry Heart mostly, I think, because of Weiner’s Twitter response to the success of Glennon Melton’s Love Warrior. It seemed like the wizard had been revealed, and she wasn’t so tough after all. Actually, a little bitter. But, I thought as I approached Earthquakes and Bed again, isn’t that exactly why Weiner’s characters work for us? For me? We are ALL of these things: bitter, sweet, jealous, proud, insecure, fierce. Human.

Anyway. I’m in mama mode and Little Earthquakes did the same things to me it always did. Hug my friends, kiss my kid, remember that every person has a story I don’t know, look at my dirty Vera Bradley bag with more tenderness than disgust. A bit into Good In Bed I was talking to a friend and said something to the effect of “meh, I’m not sure if I’ll finish it this time around.” I kept reading. And then . . . the unintended pregnancy! The asshole impregnator! Bad dad! The career crisis and crazy family and legacy of painful childhood! I had forgotten about ALL OF THAT.

“Ahhh” I thought, “here we go.”

As improbable as Cannie’s financial and professional luck rang, I wanted it for her (and for me). Brief Phish culture commentary? I’m a Northeast 90’s product, I got it. Making peace out of white hot fury? I needed to watch someone else do it before I tried to do it myself.

We know what fiction does for us, and for our world. Re-reading Good in Bed in a very different decade of my life was much less beach read than role playing, shuffling the cards in my hand, and realizing there are more combinations than I am aware of. If that isn’t hope, I don’t know what is.

Replacement Filter

I tell all of the parenting stories I shouldn’t. Stories where I swear and fail and damage my child in ways we all do but all ignore, and sure as hell don’t tell the other mothers. My verbal filter is notably porous.

During my first year teaching at a new school where I felt utterly out of my league, I told the “put your fucking boots on” story (cementing my position as the office over sharer).

It’s legend now. During that first year my son and I commuted an hour to our respective new schools. We are not morning people; it was challenging. We were running late, and I can still see my black skirt and broken old Danskos and feel the wet hair dripping down my back. For whatever reason, Colby was bouncing around the small, white kitchen like a pinball machine. “Colby!” I yelled, “Just put your FUCKING BOOTS ON!” I then had 45 minutes of driving during which I could cry and apologize.

When I told the PYFBO story, I learned immediately where and with whom I would fit in. From that day on, my colleagues have found me in my classroom or copy room or office bathroom, grabbed my arm and said “Heather! You’re gonna love this one . . .” And they proceed to tell their very own version of the Horrible Parent Story.

Ann Patchett says that every author has one story, and I’m afraid this one is mine.

I am sure it is annoying and probably the result of a personality disorder, but I can’t stand to walk around with an untold story. I feel an untold story bubble under the skin of my chest and wrench tight the muscles in my back. Also, I quite enjoy the opportunity to entertain my friends, to shock, to be a walking PSA shouting “We are all different!” and “Different is good!” Underneath all that, though, is the knowledge that these stories, the boots and the bongs and sending your kids to school sick, these are the stories that can cause us the most shame. My friend Sarah recently wrote about how we are freed from being the perfect wife but now must be the perfect mother, which is maybe more insidious than the first. Not only this, but we need to be perfect mothers with perfect kids.

Even though I know this, I still find myself wrestling with parenting decisions and sometimes making not the one that I feel is the best fit for my child and my family, but the one that best fits the governing perception of good kids and good parenting in my own community. These are unwritten rules and will change at any time.

My Horrible Parenting Stories are certainly not solely mine. The locus of impact is closer to me than my child in most instances, but these days I’m achingly aware of a new line. A boundary between the stories that are shared and do not affect my child’s peer group or reputation, and the stories where they do. I feel the same way about my nascent romantic relationship. Grateful, curious, protective. My filters have changed.

So I’m learning, as always. Which stories to tell and to whom.

xoxo

Heather

What do we even DO?

My friends.

What are you doing today? Are you, too, at work all in black and hiding your “Wild Feminist” shirt under a big scarf so you won’t get in trouble but also are telling the truth even if it’s only to your own heart?

I don’t know how to mark this occasion. The last inaugurations? We had parties and ate food and celebrated with friends. Today feels less like a party and more like a wake.

I’m not sure what to do, but I know that we ALL should cook at home tonight. If food=love then we are going to have a LOVE PARTY.

Go to your local grocery store or scrounge around in your pantry. If you’re like me you’ve been DOWN since November and have just started grocery shopping and doing laundry and actual work again.

I have spent three months watching goat videos on YouTube. Remember how Margaret Atwood described the fallow state in her Oryx and Crake trilogy? I feel like I’ve been in a goat-video-watching fallow state. And now, it’s time to get UP.

So tonight:

Open a bottle (box) of wine or some good, local beers, or a box of Capri Sun. Whatever. Put on some music. Tell the people in your house that they will be helping and/or leaving you utterly alone. Think about what FEEDS you. Remember that in airplane disasters you are required to put on your own oxygen mask before you help others. This? Tonight? This is your oxygen mask. This may be your oxygen mask for the next four years.

I’m thinking about dinner and my family and my *two teenaged boys who will come of age under the most misogynistic administration I have ever known. I’m thinking of my boyfriend who wonders why I, now, am angrier and more frustrated than I have ever been, and I’m thinking of ways to be less angry and more effective.

But bitches get shit done. So I’m still working on that.

Here are a few options I’m thinking about as I plan my meal for tonight:

Meals

  • Italian Wedding Soup from Dinner A Love Story blog
  • Jenny Rosenstrach’s Chicken Soup with Orzo from Dinner: A Love Story
  • Phyllis Grant’s Hearts of Romaine Salad with bacon, eggs, and pesto dressingSoy sauce eggs
  • Every online community seems to suggest a roast chicken for mourning. If you do this, use Mark Bittman’s recipe with a large cast iron dutch oven.
  • If you still can’t get off the couch – Pizza Toast (Catherine Newman)
  • If you want to eat your feelings and slip off into a warm and comfortable food coma, I would suggest Mississippi roast with mashed potatoes or sausage and lentil stew with cheesy biscuits or bread
  • Tacos, just because.

Sweets

  • World Peace Cookies
  • Chocolate Cake for Any Occasion
  •  . . . Mexican Icebox Cookies

 

Today, I want ALL of my people under one roof and to be drinking and cooking and dancing my way through the kitchen to prove that I AM STILL HERE. WE are all still here. We are going to be kind and brave, we will take care of ourselves, our families, and each other; we will bear witness to this moment and our commitment to this big, brutiful world.

What are you making tonight, loves?

xoxo

Heather

 

*There have been some developments in my life. More on that later.

On Love and Langue

 

My boyfriend and I, we don’t exactly speak the same language. And for once, I am not being hyperbolic.

By profession I am a teacher of English. By birth I am a bibliophile of the first order. I am sensitive and perceptive and have tendencies to overthink that certainly allow me to suss out the nuance of a passage or situation. It also allows me a diagnosis. And a prescription. Any old way, words matter. In 2016, words matter a lot.

But now, this tendency of mine to ponder and parse and analyze is less helpful. Maybe it wasn’t so helpful all along.

My boyfriend, he’s a talker. Even though he knows I only understand about 60 % of what he says on the phone, he still wants to talk, and I feel the same way. Even if I don’t understand the words, I understand his pace, his tone of voice, the way his timbre shifts when he’s tired. Where I once would have pulled an entire conversation into columns of words, words that are friendly or unsure or loving or reticent, I am left with only an echo, an imprint of what was said.

Because when he is looking for words the best word isn’t always available. He’ll lapse, frustrated, into his own language; he’ll choose the closest option. When I am trying to articulate a feeling with idiom (last week it was the impossibility of translating “all worked up”) my best choices include hand gestures and eye rolls and eventually, the grasping of a word that is close, but still not right.

We were talking about the near completion of my second master’s degree the other night. “The only disappointment for me,” he said. I winced, curled up on the couch, squinting my right eye and cheek and corner of my mouth all together. “The only disappointment for me and you,” he tried again, “is that your salary does not reflect the work that you do.” I gave him a pass. I could hear what I would normally say reverberating in my brain: Disappointment? How do YOU get to be disappointed in MY success? Is money really what matters? Are you saying I am a financial liability? But there is no room for that now. I can no longer assume the meaning behind a word, or even the intent. My information comes from elsewhere. I am learning to pay attention to other things.

I am paying attention to things that defy logic and science and definition. To the way four voices fill a house and empty a refrigerator, to the way hope rises; I am paying attention to possibilities and the soft edges of human love.

 

On Radical Kindness

As promised, here are my remarks for our 2016 National Honor Society induction ceremony. 

Good evening. Before I begin, I want to thank you for asking me to speak tonight. I am honored, and so very proud of all of you. As our current Public Speaking teacher, I feel just a tiny bit of pressure to perform.

The National Honor Society is comprised of students who have demonstrated excellence in scholarship, leadership, service, and character. YOU are the people I send my freshmen to for help. You are the ambassadors of our school and community. I hope that what I have to say to you tonight supports this mission, gives you something to think about as you go forth.

So, to do this, I need you to play along with me for a moment.

Close your eyes.

YOU are Harry Potter jumping into the Pensieve, the sparkling sink of memories, here. If you were to narrate your own story, right now, what would the critical, most important moments, the game changers, look like? Thinking backward, what events have led to your sitting here tonight? What is your story?

When I tell mine, I have landmarks – good and bad – but ALL that good has something in common: kindness. I’m not talking about getting a pay-it-forward coffee in the drive-through at Dunkin’, although that is a sure way to put a smile on my face. I’m talking about deeper, life-altering kindness, a kindness that is not safe, or comfortable, or easy.

Now I want you to take a moment and look to your left, and look to your right. Search the crowd like a spotlight. Whose story do you know? Think of someone you had trouble with today, a freshman in your way on the ramp or a cranky teacher or your best friend, or your mama. What is their story? What do you think their day was like today? Visualize concentric circles and move out, and think about those in your – school – community – state – nation – world. How very many stories are we missing?

My story is built upon the radical kindness of others.

I have experienced radical kindness at the hands of professors who, when my options were to lug a feverish toddler to class or stay home, said, “you are both welcome, come”. In this they said, “you are smart, you are welcome, you are worthy.”

I’ve experienced radical kindness in the words of writers who, knowing what criticism would come, told their truths anyway. For in telling their truths they nodded to the rest of us and said, “you are not alone.”

I’ve experienced radical kindness in Target-line conversations and smiles and held doors and when reading “I’m proud of you” scribbled in the margins of a most challenging grad paper. In this, they said, “you are seen, you are valued.”

Each of these moments required pause, they required time and energy of the giver, a moment outside of oneself (or ones phone).

Each of these moments ferried me over the difficult ones, and it is not hyperbolic to say that I would not be here, right now, without each one of them.

Radical kindness happens in the margins. Radical kindness is not random.

It is empathy, and validating the feelings of others.

It is humility, and knowing we are one of many.

It is respect, regard for that which is different from you.

It is a verb. Not an idea, but an action.

It is recognizing that we ALL have a story.

I fail at this every day, and that is okay. Giving advice to young writers, lecturer and writer Andrew Solomon says “ . . . It is nearly impossible to hate anyone whose story you know . . .” and this thought sits like a virtual worry stone in the pocket of my heart. My daily failure means I am trying. It does not stop me from showing up again the next day, and the next, and the next, for I must.

Now is the time for radical kindness.

This is not to say that the act of “paying it forward” is meaningless. There will never be too much of that. It is to say that you are getting older, and more mature, and you are ready to make the hard choices – to look beyond yourselves.

It is often much easier to pay $2 for a cup of coffee than it is to stop and help someone pick up their dropped papers in the hall. It is easier to judge than to wonder. It is easier to give a present than it is to listen, and it is much more comfortable to complete a “random act of kindness” than to tell your friends “please don’t say that” or “leave him alone.”

But you are ready to make the hard choices. You need 0 dollars to change your way of moving about this one, wild and beautiful world.

Mother Teresa once commented on the state of the world: “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.” So again, I ask you to look to your left, and look to your right. Search the crowd like a spotlight.

Now, stand up.

If you are comfortable doing so, grab the hands of those next to you.

Here are your people.

In radical kindness we affirm that we do, indeed, belong to each other.

Thank you.

The ceremony was lovely and the most difficult moment was restraining myself from helping when two young gentlemen behind me were struggling to place the new NHS pins on each other. 

Now I am tired, and am looking forward to a weekend of very little other than house cleaning and hockey. 

xoxo

Heather