Fantastic Friday: Three-minute friendship

Today, I took my kids to a socially-distanced outdoor activity—a farm/playground where families were asked to stay at least 6 feet apart. As you might expect, kids have a harder time doing so. A slightly older girl approached my daughter and said, “Hi what’s your name? I’m so-and-so. Can we be friends? I don’t have any friends this year.” Then the girl looked down at her toes while my young daughter processed the words. “Yes,” my daughter said. At once, I saw the other girl’s eyes light up. The two of them shared three random facts before her parents called her away to a more appropriate distance.

But all my daughter has been talking about is the friend she made, and I would imagine similar thoughts are occurring with the other girl.

I read the book Wonder this week (review coming Monday), which follows the story of a boy who was bullied because of his appearance. The novel emphasizes the importance of kindness and the harm that even a single act of bullying or cruelty can have on someone.

I wasn’t going to go in this direction for today’s Fantastic Friday post. In fact, I’ve been having a hard time writing Fantastic Friday posts. It’s not because I haven’t had positive ideas or experiences, but in the current climate, with riots, anger, continued closures, fear… it seems way too easy to say the wrong thing, and I didn’t want any of my posts to be taken the wrong way. If I write about one thing, am I ignoring others? Will my post seem trite compared to the gravity of other issues? If I admit to getting together with family, will I be torn apart for putting people at risk? Is a fun post about mask-making going to incite anger by anti-maskers?

But this week, in addition to reading Wonder, I came upon a short YouTube clip. It’s actor Mandy Patinkin, the one who portrayed Inigo Montoya in The Princess Bride. He’s the one with the famous line “you killed my father…prepare to die,” which he recited so many times in the movie.

In the YouTube clip, he recalls watching the film several decades later and realizing the importance of a minor line that he barely remembered saying. But now, he realizes it is a chunk of wisdom that perhaps only comes with age: his character spent so much time seeking revenge for the death of his father that he lost his own identity. When he finally got the revenge he was looking for, he didn’t know what to do with himself.

I was reminded of a favorite show of mine, Doctor Who. The 12th doctor’s regeneration speech contains advice from a (sort of) immortal being to his next iteration. It emphasizes the importance of being kind and the waste in being cruel.

And this all reminds me of a thought I’ve been having over and over these past few weeks. I would be willing to bet that the world would be a better place if more people read fiction. There are so many lessons, so much experience packed into pages that we can live lifetimes within a single month. If more people read fiction, they would have that many more opportunities to empathize with characters they might not have ever been exposed to in the course of their lives. Fiction allows us into the minds of all kinds of characters—bad ones and good ones, popular ones and the marginalized.

Through all the fiction I’ve read, I’ve taken one lesson, and it’s something that I’ve been growing towards increasingly as the years go on and as I have become a parent. There is no harm in being kind. I’ve had students ask me why I’m not mean, like some of the other teachers. I’ve been asked why I’m kind. I answer: I would hope that my own kids would have kind teachers. I would have wished that all my teachers were kind—which was not the case.

I cannot remember a time in my life when I was harmed by an act of kindness. But I can remember dozens of times when people were kind to me. I cannot remember a time in my life when cruelty was beneficial. But I still have emotional scars from as early as preschool when those around me chose not to be kind.

With all the uncertainty and fear in the world, it is easy to lash out in anger, to take sides, to dig in one’s heels and become defensive. And anger and cruelty have awful domino effects.

But kindness spreads, too. It was a lesson one of my most memorable teachers taught me.

I have had many talks with my daughter about being kind and not engaging in cruelty. And I was glad that she embraced the girl’s friendship today—even if it was a three-minute friendship. Maybe the girl will remember that one moment of kindness when she looks back on a very challenging year. And maybe she will pass along that kindness to another.

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