Choosing Kindness in a Year of Living Angrily

Originally published at Medium, November 2020.

November 20th marks Melrose’s fifth annual Random Acts of Kindness Day. It’s a day our community “took back” after an unfortunate incident at our local middle school. In 2015, a small cadre of kids, encouraged by a television program, decided to kick random red-headed classmates. The kicking crime is old news in our city, replaced by a joyful celebration of kindness. 

Since the holiday’s inception, kindness has only grown. Last year, highschool students made one hundred “Get Well” cards, delivering them to the local hospital. Melrose Bank paid for every parking spot in our commuter lot. Senior lunches were purchased by a good samaritan. All over Melrose,  happy energy swirled. 

This year, I’ve had my doubts. 

In 2020, COVID-19 has taken away our ability to share kindness with human touch. There will be few outside-of-family hugs, shaking of ungloved hands, or swapping of our kindness cards, which encourage the receiver to pass random kindness along. If coins are left in the laundromat, I believe those in need will think twice before picking them up, fearful of the germs they might carry. 

2020 has made the celebration of kindness hard to imagine. It has done more than that, too. The left and the right, the masked and the maskless, the racial justice warriors and thin blue line supporters — 2020 has made us all so angry. I can delete social media, stop reading the news, and deprive myself of Google, but the fact remains: anger is in the air. With three young adult children spending more time at home than they ever would have expected, it is hard for this old Kindness Warrior to keep my crown from slipping. Although we’ve completed our share of puzzles and reacquainted ourselves with sit-down dinners, too much togetherness makes one weary. 

I try. I wake up every morning with the intention of being a better person than I was the day before. But I’ve also failed, more often than I’d like, to consistently keep up kindness. I’ve made inappropriate hand gestures behind newly slammed doors, shown apathy rather than empathy, and in what I’ve chosen to define as quarantine-induced rage, attempted to flip my not-so-little darling off of his mattress. 

It’s not just my housemates at the receiving end of my fury. I’ve written letters of frustration to local officials who are trying their hardest in a difficult time. I’ve made phone calls to legislators asking why my issue was not given top priority, when there are so many balls to juggle. I’ve rolled my eyes behind the backs of those who don’t agree with me and I’ve dismissed opinions that are contrary to my own. Although I still believe that leading with kindness wins, in 2020, anger rules.   

When my kindness co-chair, Stephanie, nominated me as a hometown hero in a local news contest, culminating in an article titled “Melrose’s Mother of Kindness,” I felt vulnerable, exposed, and undeserving. The title alone made my knees weak with concern about unfair comparisons to Mother Teresa. Yes, I am a mother. Yes, I am the founder of Melrose Random Acts of Kindness Day. But “Mother of Kindness”? No. Not me. Not anyone. 

I spent a few days feeling as if I had a bullseye on my back, but with few exceptions, friends and neighbors, strangers even, were nothing but kind. I received many texts and calls espousing the importance of November 20th as a day to refocus and restart. I am learning, every day, that kindness is not sainthood. It is not perfection. It is as much about caring for myself as caring for anyone else. It is falling down, into a miserable heap of who-I-don’t-want-to-be, and then picking myself up, trying again. 

Shortly after our 2019 celebration of Melrose Random Acts of Kindness, I started MelroseKind a website and social media presence that celebrates kindness in our community and beyond. Over the course of the year, I’ve written posts about whatever kindness strikes me at the moment. I’ve profiled nurses working long hours in local hospitals, eager to help but worried of harm. I’ve written about teenagers trying their hardest in uncertain times and about mask makers, busily churning out safety for anyone needing, asking only for donations to our local emergency fund. In my mission to spread the good word, I’ve discovered gracious gym teachers and thoughtful crossing guards. I’ve gained new perspectives on the joy that high school football players can bring and I’ve learned of the great importance of birthday parades. I wrote about a little girl who loves elephants and about our new mayor, who loves his hometown. 

As the Kindness Warriors read profiles published on my site, I wonder if they experience the same vulnerability that I did when reading my hometown hero nomination. I believe some might have felt unworthy of the spotlight. I get that now. None of us is without fault. We’re all here together, in this crazy, mixed-up, angrier-than-we-want-to-be time. And yet, it is kindness, in small bursts and on high holidays, that makes it all worthwhile. 

On November 20th, join Melrose in celebration of our fifth Random Acts of Kindness Day by completing The Great Kindness Challenge. Each item in the challenge allows for your own interpretation and inspiration. No one will hold you to completion. But I believe you’ll feel better having done it. You’ll stand a little taller and smile a little brighter. And at the end of the day, come visit us, at our Main Street kindness mural, so together we can celebrate our imperfect selves and the kindness each of us carries within. 

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