How to remember to do the right thing and model kindness, always
I have a memory of a shared birthday, my older sister and me were just three years apart and our birthday was only 3 days apart. Apparently, she hated sharing her birthdays with me but I don't remember that. What I remember is my 6th birthday when I was wearing my skirt around my neck because my petticoat, something I had never worn before was so stunning and I hung from my knees from a bar and fell and cut my chin open and had to get stitches and everyone cheered when I came back from the hospital. I guess I see why my sister didn't like sharing birthdays-also, I was pretty cute-here is a picture of me with my best friend Aisling-
Anyway, there was another birthday I remember when we were inviting people, my parents had a policy that everyone in your class had to be invited or you couldn't hand out invitations which was really the best part and I cried because my sister didn't want to invite the retarded kids-okay-now they are called mentally challenged but we called them retarded in the sixties, mainly because she didn't know them and I didn't really know them either but I sort of did because I was really, really nice to them which caused this one kid, a huge black kid to love me and chase me around the playground which was sort of terrible because I had a crush on someone much cuter but I realized he was having a rough time in life so I thought he should have been invited to my birthday party. This was not a great idea because he was really challenged and huge. However, my point is, I've always felt very responsible for the people who don't get invited to the party although I usually was lucky enough to be liked. What is that? Is it empathy or is it something less admirable?
I went after a very strong bully when we lived in England for a year because she was mean and no one else defied her. My punishment was to get punched in the mouth by a diminutive hit man and also to be sent to Coventry which meant no one talked me at lunchtime and I was really lonely. But I hated how she made fun of people and the way she made uncool kids feel bad. What I don't understand is why I cared because I don't recall my parents ever telling me I should be kind to people especially those who might need help. But I watched them treat everyone with respect unless they were bullies or racist or mean republicans or, I regret to say, boring. My parents could be mean and I can't. I try and I fail or I wake up in the middle of the night feeling awful and so it's my fate to not be a bitch. Most of the time.
Here is a picture of me in Spain after that rough year in England. I baby-sat two unhappy children and was so nice to them even though they were horrible brats who only liked me and their parents never paid me for hours and hours of babysitting.
One day I happened to look out the window at the playground across the street from our house in Chicago and saw a little boy, a really little boy crying and then I saw another boy, a bigger boy, walking over to him and it was my son. I held my breath in case my son was the reason this boy was crying and then I watched my son lean over and whisper something and the other boy smiled and my son put his hand around that kid's shoulder and led him back towards the other kids. I know my son was mean sometimes, everyone is but when I saw that it made me so happy because who knows what the hell your kids learn by watching you? I was afraid he had mostly learned how to get hopelessly lost and how to lose your shit when things don't go your way but he seemed to have learned how to be kind and I'm telling you I was much happier to witness that moment than all the other moments when we realized he was gifted and also, incidentally, really funny. I think the personal is the political and if you actually look someone in the eyes and recognize their humanity and connection to you then all the rest starts to change.
This is why Abu Dhabi represented so many things I could not ignore. You were supposed to be separate from men if you were a woman and you were expected to treat the people who did work like maids and waiters as if they were less than you and that made no sense. When I walked to school in the morning I was afraid to make eye contact with the Indian men on their way to work because they could get in trouble. I was taught that all people are equal and that you encouraged those that were less fortunate to pursue their dreams. You worked hard so you could give things away.
My parents are incredibly generous. They contribute to so many charities that they are sent boxes and boxes of greeting cards with puppies and kittens and Native Americans and even though I don't have the wealth I have tried to work with students who aren't lucky enough to attend good schools or get the sort of support they need to apply to college.
Basically, things are terrible right now in the Ukraine and Syria and other places where journalists and activists and innocent people who deserve to live in safety are being tortured and abused and bullied. I'm standing in my condominium in this polar vortex Chicago listening to someone describing the deaths of activists that sacrificed their lives to push against oppression and injustice and I am more aware than ever that I can't pull the ladder up because I have found my place.