About a month ago, some really beautiful people in Santa Fe opened their home to me. I was in town for a poetry event, and as supporters of the theater, they often host performers. They bestowed immense kindness upon me, laughed with me, looked out for me and shared their wisdom. They made me feel like family, which had nothing to do with me and everything to do with who they are. I learned a lot from them, and have told many of you some of it. The thing I’d been thinking about before was how I always felt like love exhibited toward me was diminished in value if it wasn’t especially mine. It had to be the result of my own superiority, my own specialness for it to really mean anything. But that’s bullshit. The best people are good people, who are good in lots of settings. Surrounding myself with people who are only good to me is a terrible idea. But there’s something in society that tells us to be jealous, to compete. That in order for us to have something someone else has to not have it.
My children spend a lot of time with my ex-husband’s girlfriend, who lives with him. I am glad (understatement) to no longer be married to him, am grateful for her kindness to them, and genuinely want them to like her. I want them to be their charming, beautiful selves with her, and I want her to love them and do silly things with them. Being their mother isn’t something that I’m at risk of losing, it’s who I am. It’s non-transferable. But loving those children enough to give them the confidence to endure all the inevitable beat downs that life will send their way is a task that I want lots of people involved in. I was telling someone this recently, and it was met with disbelief. But I assure you, it is genuine.
It’s hard even to convince the boys of this–they feel conflicted when they talk about enjoying some time with her, and I have to tell them again and again, I love anyone who loves them and protects them from harm. Period. If she was being a monster to them it would be different. Like I know this one girl, Snow White, who’s dad’s new boo was all about feeding her poisoned apples, and trust, that shit would not fly.
And of course, this non-transferable mother role is special and completely non-threatenable, but there is a version of it that extends to everyone, to all the people I love. I am the only me in your life, and that’s that (and you the only you in my life). I don’t have to be your best friend or your savior or your one and only confidant. If someone is being kind to you, I love them for it. I’m not kind enough to be the only kind person in your life. I’m not funny enough to be the only funny person in your life. I can’t be the only person you tell your feelings to or the only person you laugh with. I fail some days, don’t have enough time, life isn’t long enough for you to be waiting for one person to be free. So let’s all find more people. Be that person in each other’s lives. Have dinner without me and text me pictures and I’ll text back ‘jealous’ but really I’ll feel your laughter somewhere in my heart and be so glad you are having that. The more people who are kind to other people, the better the world we live in will be. If other people are making me happy, I’ll bring that happiness to everyone else as well. We need to share what we have to give so that it multiplies (though of course if the thing you’re giving is the D or the V, be choosier–herpes multiplies too).
You might be at a place right now where you can’t quite pinpoint what good you’re bringing to the world and that may make you feel like this prompt isn’t for you. But I promise you, it’s for you–because being kind–smiling at people, complimenting strangers, holding doors, making small talk with the cashier at the coffee shop–requires no previous experience. You can start today and be an expert by tomorrow. Just think about how you want people to feel once they’ve left your presence, and then work toward putting that in the world.
I love the poem below, it was shared during a TLA Council Meeting last night (because I’m a part of an organization that opens and closes conference calls with poems). It makes me wonder if perhaps the reason we have such a hard time just feeling good things has to do with how difficult it is to contain purely positive feelings without parameters or a fence of negativity. F the fence, let happiness run all over the page.
It is difficult to know what to do with so much happiness.
With sadness there is something to rub against,
a wound to tend with lotion and cloth.
When the world falls in around you, you have pieces to pick up,
something to hold in your hands, like ticket stubs or change.
But happiness floats.
It doesn’t need you to hold it down.
It doesn’t need anything.
Happiness lands on the roof of the next house, singing,
and disappears when it wants to.
You are happy either way.
Even the fact that you once lived in a peaceful tree house
and now live over a quarry of noise and dust
cannot make you unhappy.
Everything has a life of its own,
it too could wake up filled with possibilities
of coffee cake and ripe peaches,
and love even the floor which needs to be swept,
the soiled linens and scratched records…..
Since there is no place large enough
to contain so much happiness,
you shrug, you raise your hands, and it flows out of you
into everything you touch. You are not responsible.
You take no credit, as the night sky takes no credit
for the moon, but continues to hold it, and share it,
and in that way, be known.
~ Naomi Shahib-Nye