This season we focus on benevolent actions and cheery thoughts. We give gifts to loved ones, attend celebrations with friends, perform acts of charity for strangers, and think compassionately about humanity in general. Our world certainly needs more emphasis on generosity, happiness, philanthropy and humanitarianism. Sadly, the recurrent call for the spirit of the holidays to extend throughout the year generally remains unfulfilled. However, if we focus on the essence of this spirit, which I believe is kindness, we can find and experience the “true meaning” of this season more often.

Recently, several incidents led to my epiphany regarding the fundamental significance of kindness. 

The first case illustrated the healing properties of kindness. A chance encounter with a stereotypically rude American tourist, vocalizing his intolerant views, provoked a surprising reaction in me. My initial shock and anger were displaced by an unconscious instinctive response; after he left, I found myself smiling at passers-by and going out of my way to offer assistance with doors or parcels. I was compelled to do something for others and for myself, in order to combat his negativity.

In another instance, a special event demonstrated the power of kindness. When I was asked to give a presentation to a local rural women’s association, I found myself embraced by a noble circle of women intent on caring for their community. The central role of kindness was signalled at the start of the afternoon, when the little gold books placed at each chair were opened for a group recitation. The item, which I took for a poem, but was technically a prayer, addressed as it was to a Supreme Being, struck me deeply. After the formal meeting, the women responded to my presentation with warmth and generosity, and then extended their hospitality to me with a lovely luncheon. I found the afternoon transformative. These admirable women illustrated the ability of kind actions to bring people together and the strength of those actions to improve their community. 

Finally, my recognition of the potency of kindness occurred during a discussion I was having with some lovely Bergenites. I was contrasting urban and rural lifestyles, noting how the rushed mindset of people in a crowded city is alienating and leads to distrust, whereas the rural setting allows a more natural pace of life and fosters interdependence and community. I’m sure I was not so succinct at the time, but the ladies understood what I meant. They realized my yearning to belong to a place that valued goodness. Significantly, they invited me to join their society. Their generous acceptance of me was deeply moving for me and was the culmination of my pilgrimage to understand kindness. 

At this time of year, when the sun is most remote and darkness prevails, we yearn for light and turn our thoughts towards the life-affirming ideals of peace and joy. The warm rays of kindness sweep over us, mending our souls and filling our hearts. We have the ability to carry that “holiday spirit” into the new year. Treasure the kindnesses shared with you; nurture them and bestow the gifts of kindness on others.

Thank you to the Parkhills Women’s Guild and the Bergen Ladies Aid for their inspiration.

by Mary Stewart

Keep us, O God, from pettiness;
let us be large in thought, in word, in deed.

Let us be done with fault-finding and
leave off self-seeking.

May we put away all pretense and meet each 
other face to face — without self-pity 
and without prejudice.

May we never be hasty in judgement and
always generous.

Let us take time for all things;
make us grow calm, serene, gentle.

Teach us to put into action our better impulses,
straightforward and unafraid.

Grant that we may realize it is the little
things that create differences,
that in the big things of life we are at one.

And may we strive to touch and to know the great,
common human heart of us all, and
O Lord God, let us not forget to be kind!

This article was originally printed in the Bergen News and is being reprinted with permission.