ON BEING KIND

(The 19th century American novelist Henry James, who was perhaps more English than the English, was notorious for complicated and torturous sentences that often have to be deconstructed like puzzles. But in “real life” he could be clear and straightforward about his meaning, as this poem by June Beisch demonstrates. There is no image for this post because I don’t know what visual image would demonstrate “kindness” for me, certainly not for you. So fill in your own image, please.)

Henry James

by June Robertson Beisch

“Poor Mr. James,” Virginia Woolf once said:
“He never quite met the right people.”
Poor James. He never quite met the
children of light and so he had to invent them.
Then, when people said: No one is like that.
Your books are not reality, he replied:

So much the worse for reality.

He described himself as “slow to conclude,
orotund, a slow-moving creature, circling his rooms
slowly masticating his food.”

Once, when a nephew asked his advice
on how to live, he searched his mind.
Number One, be kind, he said.
Number Two, be kind and
Number Three, be kind.

“Henry James” by June Beisch, from Fatherless Woman. © Cape Cod Literary Press, 2004.

I said I don’t have any visual image for being kind — but coincidentally this morning I read a post by blogging friend Joss, aka Crowing Crone. Her post, Look for Opportunities, is in turns horrifying, electrifying, and inspiring. From precious personal experience Joss testifies to the power of kindness. Don’t miss it: you won’t forget it. Thank you, Joss.

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This entry was posted in Definitions, Etcetera, Poetry, Wisdom, Writers. Bookmark the permalink.

22 Responses to ON BEING KIND

  1. Smallpeace says:

    When my precocious nephew was about 10 years old and pondering aspects of his Catholic school training, he asked me: “What religion are you, Auntie?” Having long-ago rejected the Catholic ritual to embark on…how shall I put it…a less-structured spiritual quest, I was a bit stumped. Then I remembered what the Dalai Lama often says when he is asked the same question: “My religion is very simple. My religion is kindness.”

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  2. Henry James was a wise man, it seems! Thanks for the shout-out here.”horrifying, electrifying and inspiring” – it’s hard to acknowledge that, you know. It’s “just” my life. Walk in beauty.

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    • Pauline says:

      Ah but Joss, you could have remembered only the beatings and the sadness and the poverty. That you chose to focus on the kindnesses, big and small, that befell you speaks of an inner strength that isn’t “just” a beautiful expression of self – it’s an inspiration to others. In a book I am currently reading, one of the main characters declares that the point of living is to be useful, to give, to be needed in some way that’s important. I’d say the world needs you and your kindness.

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  3. reb says:

    I read this, and then I went and read Joss’ post, which I would have read anyway, a little later. It was indeed all of what you said, and also reminded me of one, tiny episode of true kindness on my own journey.

    I’ve never read anything by Henry James.

    The comment, here above, reminded me of being asked the same question, when I’d just moved to QC. Coming from very secularized Sweden, I, too, was almost stumped at the question! 🙂 Started to stutter something, when G. filled in for me saying that Church of Sweden is Lutheran. I would never have come up with the word Lutheran myself.

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    • Touch2Touch says:

      Henry James is an acquired taste; I don’t think you need to acquire it! 😉

      To me the difference in Christian religions was between Catholic and Protestant. So all the differences WITHIN Protestantism kind of didn’t make sense to me. Now that I’m much more knowledgeable about the subject — they still kind of don’t make sense. But people make meaning of things however satisfies them. Michele (Smallpeace) talks about “a less-structured spiritual quest.” I guess that’s a pretty good descriptor for me too.
      The Dalai Lama is definitely on to something — The world could do a lot worse than adapt that as a universal.

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      • reb says:

        yes, I felt the same way … that ‘being on a less-structured spiritual quest’, very much applies to me too!

        The word ‘Christian’ did go through my mind, that split second before G. said ‘Lutheran’ … and then I thought; ‘Yeah! Right, that’s what it is!’

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        • Touch2Touch says:

          In the days when I felt more intimate with “God” (a long time ago now) I was sure of certain things, like, God doesn’t make the kinds of puny distinctions that human beings do.

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  4. I took your advice and I ‘didn’t miss’ the Opportunity. Thank you for directing (redirecting?) me. I’m trying to think how to explain how I felt reading about ‘the girl’ but, I am no wordsmith. So, ‘just’ thanks.

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  5. Thanks, Judith – for your words, James’ words and the link. The older I get the more I believe that kindness is greatly underrated and perhaps, as you suggest, the most important principle to live by.

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    • Touch2Touch says:

      I’m certainly ancient enough by now to be pretty clear about some things. That’s one of them. At the end of the day, kindness is all in all.
      Thank you for writing, Karen. I’m always happy when you visit.

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  6. This poem is so lovely, it made me laugh, and then it brought tears to my eyes! Thank you for sharing it.

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    • Touch2Touch says:

      I’m so happy you enjoyed it, especially because you enjoy it in the just the same way I do!!!!
      Thanks very much for visiting my blog, and for introducing me to yours.

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  7. Pauline says:

    “So much the worse for reality.” I’ve felt that way myself, sometimes.

    My Mama used to tell us kids to be a little kinder than necessary and, as well, we were to ask of ourselves before we spoke to or of another: Is it kind? Is it necessary? Is it true? And if what we were about to say didn’t meet all three criteria, well, better left unsaid! Questioning yourself as to why you do what you do, why you believe what you believe, slows you down some, but it doesn’t hurt you. You often make me slow down and think 🙂

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    • Touch2Touch says:

      Well, P, your wisdom had to come from somewhere — and I guess your mother was one of the beginnings of it all. Her three questions are a very useful guide and monitor. (Not to mention Kind!)

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  8. Patti Kuche says:

    These touching words of yours bring to mind equal measures of sadness and joy. My mother, ever fearful of others and their intentions, was always so surprised to discover the simple, generous and genuine kindness of others. That acts of kindness are sometimes viewed with suspicion, ulterior motives, never quite meeting the right people? Certainly no reason to give up!

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    • Touch2Touch says:

      “Equal measures of sadness and joy” —
      I hear echoing the mother in Tennessee Williams’ Glass Menagerie: “I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.”
      Some of the saddest words ever spoken on the stage — coming perhaps from the opposite viewpoint of your mother, but ending somehow in the same place.

      As you say — when your heart is truly moved to an act of kindness, then you do it, and don’t weigh the consequences. They aren’t yours to weigh, anyway. You can only control what you do, not all of its ramifications.

      One more quote, from one of my favorites, the Four Quartets of T.S. Eliot:

      ” … do not think of the fruit of action.
      Fare forward.”

      (The whole passage in the third Quartet, The Dry Salvages, from which this comes, while somewhat gnarly, repays effort.Forgive an old English major for over-literariness.)

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