Be kind, for everyone you meet is carrying a great burden.
–Attributed to Philo
I came upon this attributed quote in Kayak Morning, Roger Rosenblatt’s second memoir of grief upon the sudden death of his beloved only daughter. (His first memoir, Making Toast, explores his grief and the mixed joys of stepping in with his wife to help raise their three motherless grandchildren.)
Philo reminds us how fragile we all are, all the time.
We are entering the darkest days of our calendar, as well as the season of several festivals of light and hope. The interplay of light and darkness at this time of year is always compelling, serving as a potent metaphor for the mix of joy and sadness, gifts and burdens, that life inevitably brings.
I have never felt the shared burdens of so many people in my life as acutely as I do this year. Dear friends facing disease, their own or that of close family members, pacing themselves with great courage and equal difficulty through treatments that bring their own terrible afflictions and uncertain outcomes. Acquaintances fighting visa issues that have shadowed their lives for years, and now finally bring them to face the starkest possibilities. The waters seem to be rising for friends who daily tread against the deep currents of depression and loneliness. Almost everyone my age is making some arduous trip to spend the holidays with failing parents, hoping to do what they can to ease day-to-day living while hedging against the ravages to come. And, as if these trials weren’t enough, our nation reels and mourns at yet another mass shooting in a school, this time of the very youngest schoolchildren and their teachers, who displayed unimaginable courage and resilience in the face of unimaginable horror.
Reading this quotation, and observing the folks around me, I am struck anew by how difficult, even impossible, the daily carrying of these burdens, much less into a season of celebration, can be. While this interplay of light and dark has usually, for me, encouraged the perspective of light penetrating gloom (think The Little Match Girl and her impossibly upbeat appreciation for the light shining from warm family homes and from her few brief matches), for those living in deep shadow, the light may not penetrate at all, or may seem to shine an ironic, elusive spotlight on darkness.
And so back to the wise and simple words of Philo: Be kind.
When you think you cannot bear any more of your own darkness, try to lighten the burden of someone around you.
My current practice is to attempt to be present to the beloved friends and family members who need it, whether they know it or not, whether they are able to ask for it or not. To break out of my daily routine and invite a friend who needs a break to a matinee, and afterward, to stand in the parking lot as long as possible, laughing and crying by turns. To celebrate my friends in small ways; call someone I have fallen out of touch with; make eye contact with passersby in a way I usually don’t while walking; tell someone who doesn’t know I am aware of their existence that I appreciate the way they do their job all year.
Be kind. Bring light. Presume good will.
Mary for the Poplar Grove Muse