The thundering punishment of the day's heat had not quite descended this morning as I prepared to stand on the peace picket line. Beneath my robe, I could feel my sweat glands preparing to break into song, but they were only humming as yet. I was the first person to arrive outside the courthouse on Main Street and I wondered, given the series of hot days lately, if anyone else would show up. Most of the people on the line are, like me, older ... and the heat takes its toll. One by one, quite a few of them did.
And as I stood there, a neighbor who lives not far from my house passed by with two teenaged girls in tow. Kim and her family are not people I hang out with, but they are people I say hi to from time to time, people with whom I share a smile or perhaps a little gossip. For the past several Saturdays, Kim has passed by the peace picket line, saying good morning each time.
This morning she stopped for a more studied greeting. "I am always so happy to see you here," she said. "It comforts and reassures me." The statement caught me flat-footed. All I could think to say was the truth: "It makes me happy if you are happy."
I really do enjoy it when people are happy, but Kim's assertion also underlined what I often forget ... how the seemingly meaningless littlest things can serve a wider and more profound purpose. Some people like to make spiritual hay out of such an observation, but since it is impossible to know the full impact of any action or gesture ... well, leave it alone. Was Kim referring to my robe and the whispers of a spiritual life she imagined but had not fulfilled? Was she referring to the fact that I'm fairly constant about my attendance on the line and that constancy inspired her in some way? Did she like my haircut?
Comforting and reassuring ... I cannot deny that I like thinking I am capable of that. But the moment I think I am capable of that, it's probably no longer true. Kim was comforting and reassuring herself and I was just fortunate enough to be in the neighborhood.
I too have been comforted and reassured by sights and sounds and smells and hugs. It wouldn't be true to say I hadn't. Seeing a monk or nun, entering a temple, hearing a kind word or glimpsing a mother touching her child. It fills the heart in the moment it occurs, but then, in the hurly-burly, its soft sweetness and utter clarity disappears.
You can never tell. It is impossible to know. What affects whom how? I'd like to say there was a formula and perhaps there is: Just be yourself and be kind. Kindness works better than the other choices available. Even if the kindness is rebuffed or misconstrued, even if you are faking it, still, be kind: What you see in the mirror will be less embarrassing that way. :)