What is the Kindest Thing?

What does being kind bring up for you? Is it paying for the meal or coffee or toll of the person behind you? Is it a hug or refraining from saying something sharp or critical to your friend or family member? Is it words of encouragement? Or making a delicious meal for someone who’s having a hard time?

Those examples are the easy side of being kind. There’s a tougher side to kindness as well.

Being kind can be releasing someone who needs you to let them move into the next chapter of their life. It can be ending work at a place of employment because it’s taking too high of an emotional toll. It can be encouraging yourself to go for a walk when you’re stressed or to eat a nutrition-packed lunch instead of fast food so you’ll feel great the rest of the day. It can be saying something that needs to be said, even though you don’t know how it’ll turn out.

One example of the difficult side of kindness from my own life is helping my 24-year-old son pack and get ready to move out West. My mother heart wants him to stay in this area, close to me, so I can see him, spend time with him, feed him, etc. But that wouldn’t be kindness if I pressured him to stay or to heaped guilt on him for deciding to go. It’s natural and healthy for young adults to leave the nest, to spread their wings, and fly off on adventures of their very own. I did my work of raising him, and now it’s time for him to fly.

Similarly, I didn’t hold my daughter back when she left a year and a half ago at age 18. The kind thing was to help her gather together and pack all the household things she’d need for life on her own. To hug her and say how proud I was of her for being so brave to go after her dreams. And I was there to wave her off down the road. After she left, I had two weeks where I was so exhausted I could hardly leave my bed. When I went to the grocery store or anywhere in our small college town, it felt empty. I was bereft and grieving. And it was ok. I slowly adjusted to it and eventually it became less painful. Still hard, but less intensely so.

I think I will have a period of grieving after my son goes as well, and that’s ok. As we know, the only constant in life is change. Everything is always and ever changing. And back to kindness, I will do the soft, gentle kind things for myself. And I will also encourage myself not to wallow in sadness, but to be grateful for all the years I had with both of my kids and for what beautiful young people they are. I will encourage myself to still practice meditation and yoga, to still move my body, to still eat the carrot salad, the kale, the right amount of protein for me. To dance, sing, laugh, and create. To drink tea and wine, tend my garden, to read and write and celebrate life in all its complex, bittersweet, glorious moments. I will be kind to myself.

What is kindness looking like to you today?