My work is to remember my dad’s advice to me when I first started dating:
“Remember, it takes a boy a lot of courage to ask a girl out, so say yes if you can. Don’t lead him on, but say yes.”
I spent a good decade keeping this advice in mind, trying valiantly to give a guy a chance as long as he wasn’t creepy or dangerous. I went on a lot of dates with a lot of different people: tech nerds, start-up upstarts, sweet Jewish boys, sweet non-Jewish boys, driven finance guys who kept east coast bank hours, snobbish San Francisco culture vultures, club boys.
I quickly learned that saying “yes” meant I also had to learn how to artfully say “no” to a second date when it wasn’t a good fit. Still, I mostly always managed to find that something special in each boy, that glimmer of amazing that each of us possess, even if we don’t always show it. Didn’t mean I was going to marry the guy.
I’m not sure exactly when it happened, but I eventually realized that what my dad was really trying to say was, “Be kind.” He just put it into terms a 16-year-old girl could relate to.
Now, as a mom, my work is to hold that advice in my hand and gently pass it on to each of my girls. It’s easy to tell our children to be kind, to teach them not to hit or use unkind words; it’s a little more challenging to teach them what compassion – a sort of ultimate kindness – looks like in real life.
Yesterday Lilah and I walked by a homeless man holding an empty Peet’s coffee cup, greeting passers-by with a hearty “good day” and asking for money. We were on our way to our favorite lunch place to pick up a kale salad. The kid loves raw kale salad.
“What is that man doing?” she asked and I didn’t know how to explain to her three-year-old soul how it is that some people have homes and some don’t, that some people need our kindness more than others and even ask for it outright.
So I said, “He’s just hanging out with his coffee saying “hi” to people who go by.”
“That’s a nice man,” she said.
How true. Even a person who needs so much more than we do is able to give a little something, even if it’s just a heart-felt greeting. And while I know what he needs and wants is my spare change, I think what we all want more than anything is to just simply be part of this world, to be seen and noticed. To know that we matter.
Lilah and I ordered our kale salad as usual and added on an organic turkey sandwich with locally sourced slaw on a whole grain bun. On the way back to the car, I handed the man the sandwich and we locked eyes for a second and smiled at each other.
“God bless” he said and my heart swelled a little. I wondered at the power of those words and the ability of anyone to invoke them, ask for them, bestow them on any other person in this world. What a gift.
“Thank you,” I replied. “Have a good day.”
“That man’s hungry!” Lilah declared as though she suddenly understood the secrets of the universe and why people stand on street corners asking for stuff – money, food. Kindness.
My work is to show some kindness, to eat kale salad with my three-year-old and, most of all, to remember that everyone matters in this world.
This has been a Finish the Sentence Friday post, where writers and bloggers link up with a relevant post. This week’s prompt was: “The best advice my father ever gave me was…”