Be Brave

I have been thinking about people I have known the past few days who didn’t back away from the moment like the people in the streets fighting for reforms in name of the dead. Here is a story about two of them I have known.


Be Brave-

In the mid 1980’s a van broke down by my house in rural Pennsylvania in the middle of a snow storm on Christmas Eve.  It was a middle aged man and his wife and the man walked up the steep hill to the apartment I lived in with my mother, father, and sister.  My grandfather was visiting for the holidays also.  The man was very apologetic and all he wanted to do was use the phone to call an emergency truck to get the van.  We let him use the phone and they told him they would be there as soon as a truck was available and could make it through the snow storm, but they were not sure when that would be.  He said thank you and walked to go back to the van.  My father stopped him and said that he didn’t like the idea of them waiting in the storm down in the van on Christmas Eve and they should come up and stay with us while they waited.  The man said he would ask his wife and left.  He came back a little while later and said his wife didn’t want to impose and they would wait in the van.  My father quickly put on his coat and went back to the van with the man to change her mind.  He returned a little while later with two slightly bewildered people in tow. My father was a bit of an oncoming storm. At first it was awkward, but after a little bit it wasn’t too bad.  Later in the evening my neighbors came over and a friendly card game was started that went late into the night.  The man and his wife ended up staying for almost two days until a tow truck could get them to a mechanic to get repairs made.  Sometimes it was awkward and crowded, but it was always understood you don’t let someone freeze in a cold van on Christmas day.  I am not sure it was even my father’s choice to offer; it might have been part of his being.  As a child I was annoyed at the lack of space (there was none already), but I understood.  You had to be brave and deal with what came your way.
In 1999 my father had lost a long difficult battle with cancer.  I didn’t have much money and was working at a job where I didn’t get along with my boss and I was worried things were not going well.  I was depressed and unsure what to do with my life or what the future would lead to.  One morning on the way to work I ran out gas.  I managed to pull over and get out harms ways, but I was stuck far from any gas station.  I was going to be late and had no way to contact my job which didn’t seem to bode well for my employment status. I was hungover and thought about sitting there and watching the cars go by, but decided against it.  I wasn’t even sure where the closest gas station was so I started walking in a direction I thought there might be one.  It was a grey day and there were drops of rain in the air.  I walked for about five minutes until I heard a car pull up next to me.  It was a Cadillac driven by an elderly black woman.  She rolled the window down and asked me where I was walking to.  I said that I ran out of gas and was looking for a station.  She told me there was none in the direction I was walking toward and it was a bad neighborhood.  She asked if I wanted a ride to the nearest station.  I accepted and got in the car.  I will always remember what she told me next.  She said ‘I was real afraid to pick you up.  I wasn’t sure if you might be trouble to me, but I decided I should.  My husband died recently and I sure miss him.  He said his whole life that you have to do right and be brave.  He would have picked you up and helped you.  I figure he is gone now and I might not have much time left either, but I am going to be brave too.  Just like he was.’   I said that I was so thankful and that I was sure her husband was a great man.  I wanted to tell her I lost my father recently and he was brave and I missed him too, but I couldn’t.  I didn’t want to put any burden on her.  She gave me a ride and I got a can of gas.  She even took me back to my car.  I made it to work only slightly late and thought about the elderly woman’s grace and bravery and how proud her husband would have been of her and how my father would have done the same thing as her in the same situation.  I also thought about how I probably would not have.  In my life I have never been able to be as brave as them, but I hope someday I can be and I am forever grateful that people like them sometimes exist in this world.

Gene G. McLaughlin 2020

I Shall

I have few resources

Often only kindness

And the will to not be inured

To the sorrow of the mourners

And the cries of the injured

I shall not keep to silence

Nor allow bigotry to be ignored

I shall seek no answers in violence

In pursuit of grace much can be endured

I shall make a quiet strong alliance

Between peace and love letting both be heard

In a voice even, but full of defiance

Against wrong thought and action

Committed via both deed and word

Gene G. McLaughlin 2015

Note-

Something I wrote to remember both how sad and outraged I was last week in South Carolina, but also how inspired I was by the survivors families in Charleston and their capacity for grace and forgiveness.

The Kindness Engine

Kindness is the creation of clarity

Life is never empty of pain

Value empathy not insularity

The path to balance writ plain

Gene G. McLaughlin 2014

Evolved Not Granted

Kindness and empathy exist

Without us inventing them

Traits evolved

Not granted

Lessons learned

Over millenniums

Not centuries

Gene G. McLaughlin 2014

Mercy An Element of Kindness

Mercy an element of kindness

Worth it’s weight in salt

Cruelty a symptom of weakness

A soley human fault

They are equally

Us

Gene G. McLaughlin 2014

Mittens or 800 Words On Kindness

When I was a child we had a young couple as neighbors. They lived by us in the duplex on the other side facing away from us. It was essentially a mirror image of the apartment we had and they lived there with their son who was my age.

One winter morning there was heavy coating of snow on the ground. The sun was not yet out, but when I opened the door and looked out I saw it had stopped snowing. It was actually sort of warm outside as it often is after a good snow. I believe it was a Saturday and I sat on the couch and turned it on watching some random morning program. Soon after my mother and father got up and my father immediately made me turn off the TV and do something productive. My mother went to my sister Erin’s bedroom to wake her up. My sister was not there. Unfortunately my sister’s wandering was something that happened on occasion. My father never really slept soundly because of it and I don’t doubt that it didn’t help his health much. He had the look of shame of his face like I have failed her yet again.  My mother acted quickly putting on her coat, because there was little time to waste and failures could be dwelt upon later.  Luckily the trail was clear in the fresh snow.

It didn’t go on for long. It went straight to our neighbor’s door. It was flung open and my sister was sitting at their carport eating a bag of grapes. She had her pajamas on with her winter hat and coat. She looked up at my mother with a slight smile on her face as if to say, these grapes sure are good in the middle of winter. The grapes where half gone and my mother looked around to make sure nothing had been disturbed. She took Erin and the grapes outside and gently closed the door. My mom actually went through the trouble of smoothing the snow over to erase our tracks as much as possible. We then retreated in the house and Erin finished eating her grapes and we started our morning as normally as possible, but in our house that was never very normal. My mother told my sister about not going anywhere without her or my father and my sister ignored her as usual determined to walk where her feet took her.  My sister’s particular brand of autism didn’t give her the gift of speech or writing, but it never slowed the pace of her feet.

A few hours later there was a knock on the door and our female neighbor stood at the door.

“Hi Mary Lou, enjoying the snow?” she asked. She was a tiny blonde woman with a surprisingly loud voice.

“Oh yes isn’t it lovely!” my mother said.

“Do you think the children will be playing in the snow later?”

“I am sure there is a good chance!”

“Yes it’s a fine day for it. Well,” she said pulling small bright green mittens out of her pocket. “Please give these mittens to Erin. They look like they would be just the type she would like and it is cold today and I am certain if she went out she would like them. We came across them and our son doesn’t care for them due to the color.”

“Why thank you! I am sure Erin will love them!” my mother said smiling and the exchange was over.

“Great,” said my neighbor smiling.  She then left without a further word.  Some stories of personal history are about what you have learned over time even if it is years later. I try to determine what values I have learned from what people and how I determine what I find admirable in others.  My neighbor never had the goal of teaching me anything that day, but I learned a simple lesson. Truth at any cost is often a foolish thing and sometimes grace and respect toward another person costs you nothing at all or maybe just a bag of grapes.  Many people in the world would have complained about my sister even though they gain nothing by it and the cost to us was great in both pride and fear. You might not want to think so, but I have seen my fellow humans swarm around the ill and the weak wanting to get their chance to hurt someone. She didn’t and I learned a simple fact. The things that are not said and ignored are often as important as what is said and noticed. The path to your own dignity can often come through letting someone else keep his or hers.

Gene G. McLaughlin 2014