In Japanese landscape gardening the word shakkei means “borrowed view.” The designer “borrows,” or incorporates, any view beyond property borders, thereby visually enlarging his own property and landscape.
In tough times of winter and darkness, cold and wind and discouragement, borrowed words have brought me (and perhaps you too) much warmth and comfort. Even brought occasional enlargement of spirit.
So I offer you a few more words while it’s still winter, borrowed from an extraordinary actress, author and playwright perhaps ahead of her time, which was the first half of the twentieth century. Alice Childress, a black dramatist of originality and talent, may still be ahead of her time, as these words of hers testify:
“Life is just a short walk from the cradle to the grave, and it sure behooves us to be kind to one another along the way.”
What, in our age of intense inequality, selfishness, greed, and competition, could seem more irrelevant than kindness? And yet what can be more needful? Henry James, who died in 1916 (coincidentally, the year Alice Childress was born), said it before her:
“Three things in human life are important. The first is to be kind. The second is to be kind. And the third is to be kind.”
So it’s not a modern idea, not at all. It’s a very very old one. Perhaps it’s always been regarded, as it seems to be today, as quaint, old-fashioned, and out of date. But as an ideal, it’s had a long run. Meet Guan Yin:
Guan Yin, or Kwan Yin, is thousands of years old. In Buddhism she (or sometimes he) is known as the Goddess of Mercy, or the bodhisattva of compassion. Sometimes you will find her seated and holding a phial containing balm with which to anoint the suffering. There are no words spoken. The gesture of compassion toward all creatures speaks for itself.
I wish for all of us brightness and warmth and the kindness of others — I think that is the key that unlocks the kindness waiting within ourselves.